Women@Imperial

To celebrate International Women's Day and Women@Imperial week, six women our Department share their thoughts and experiences.

Dr Fang Xie

Image of Fang XieDr Fang Xie holds the post of Senior Lecturer and Deputy Course Director for MSc Advanced Materials Science Engineering in the Department of Materials. 

What led you an academic career path?

Since young I have been always curious about how stuff works and felt “cool” to be a woman engineer. After my MEng degree, I worked in industry as an engineer, where I found was not challenging enough as it required one follows protocols most of the time.  I was then motivated to pursuit an academic career, which satisfies my intellectual challenge with the opportunities to work on cutting age technologies.

What barriers did you have overcome to become successful in your field?

The key barrier I had to overcome was “Not making my goal a priority”.  Among daily activities, it is very easy to get lost of our goals.   My own experience was that being a mother with two young children, to keep my dream afloat was not easy.

Who is your biggest influence?

My PhD supervisor Professor Ewa Goldys.  Her attitude to strive for excellence and superb productivity has always inspired me.  She was strict and motherly kind to her research team and has always demonstrated integrity and honesty. Most importantly, I learned from her to have faith in myself and pursuit my dream with courage.  I also acquired the skills from her about how to supervise PhD students and motivate team members!

What advice would you give to young women thinking about their careers?

Women face a lot more challenges than men in pursuing an academic career. Never lose faith in yourself, think ahead and always make your goal a priority!

Dr Priya Saravanapavan

Priya Saravanapavan

Dr Priya Saravanapavan holds the post of Strategic Teaching Fellow Tutor for Women in the Department of Materials. 

1)     What led you to teach a STEM related subject?

My favourite subject was Maths. Later I discovered I was good at Physics and Chemistry too. So when I was choosing my A Level subjects, my parents encouraged me to study the subjects I liked. I then wanted to study Engineering; while I was researching which type of engineering I would want to study, I found a magazine from the Institute of Materials. I did my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Imperial and was on an academic pathway. I realised I wanted to have more contact time with students, realised teaching was what I was good at. The choice to train as a secondary school Maths teacher wasn’t difficult and it evolved to include teaching Physics and Engineering at a 6th form. I have only recently started back at Imperial - teaching and helping students. I love the interactions I have with undergraduates, helping them solve problems, realise their potential and achieve their dreams.

2)     What advice would you like to give young women thinking of studying STEM subjects?

If you like science, go for it! It’s the best thing, whether you study pure sciences or an applied science, you are taught how to logically think, solve problems, think outside the box and be resilient. We need more logical thinkers, who work hard and persevere to come up with innovative solutions to problems we don’t even know about yet! Studying science is also a lot of fun too, think of all the experiments you can do. Do what you feel in your heart to be right!

3)     Is there a particular female who inspires you?

There are many women who have inspired me – IndiraGhandi who is the only woman prime minster of India (not just because she was a stern and skilful politician but apparently I am named after her) Marie Curie; Helen Keller; Amelia Earhart; Eleanor Roosevelt; Rosa Parks; Malala Yousafzai; but the person who inspired me most was my maternal grandmother – her resilience, elegance and caring nature – even in her late 80’s she didn’t have wrinkle on her face! She encouraged me to be the person I am now.

4)     Any assumptions about being a women that you would like to change?

Gender stereotyping often take precedence in a work place whether you are a man or a woman – women encounter it more often perhaps. I think its what we make of it – sure, as a woman I can be emotional and cheerleader like but at the same time be assertive and strong. Yes, there are barriers to progression; you have to be resilient and persevere -men also face this. I have been very fortunate to be in workplaces which are regarded as creative places to thrive; where everyone is valued for their contribution regardless of gender. I believe we can learn form some of the far flung cultures where they instil the virtue of education regardless of gender.

Tabasom Haghighi

Image of Tabasom HaghighiTabasom Haghighi is a PhD Researcher in the Department of Materials. Tabasom's research focus is engineering bio-functionalised nanoparticles for ultrasensitive biosensing.

 Why is it important to celebrate International Women's Day? 

Women form a great proportion of Imperial College's multinational community. Every day, at Imperial I get a chance to work with so many bright and successful women from all around the world, exchanging ideas, knowledge and culture. By celebrating this community and the great achievements of these women we can empower and inspire young women from all around the globe to get together and use the power of their voice to create a better and fairer world where everyone has equal rights and benefits no matter what gender, background or race they are coming from. 

What advice would you like to give young women thinking of studying a PhD?

I would say definitely go for it! Doing a PhD will not only expand your knowledge in a certain area that you're passionate about, but it also helps build your social and interpersonal skills as well as your confident. I think having more highly skilled and qualified women in all areas of science, technology and politics enables us to accelerate women equality faster. 

Are there any assumptions about being a women that you would like to change?

I would like to change the gender stereotyping of jobs, for example why is firefighting is thought of as a man's job while nursing is thought of as women's work? Why are there not as many female leaders in companies, universities or in politics. I personally think that because of this stereotyping in our society many women are too intimidated or do not get the chance to actually reach their greatest potential in the work place. So I would like to provide equal opportunities for both men and women to gain the skills or/and education required to become the best that they can be in whatever position  that they are passionate about. 

Who is your biggest influence?

All the great women that I work with at Imperial, from my colleagues to my supervisor who is one of the greatest leaders in the field. Their work and success inspires me so much every single day. 

Abigael Bamgboye

Image of Abigael Bamgboye

Abigael Bamgboye is a fourth year student, studying MEng Materials Science and Engineering.  

What does International Women's Day mean to you? 

To me it’s a valuable time to reflect on women’s achievements and how far women’s rights have come. But it’s also a poignant time to have concrete dialogue about how we can take action to reach gender parity – sooner than the 108 years estimated by the World Economic Forum at the end of 2018.

Each year, I’m excited to hear the stories of unsung female and minority ethnic pioneers – it’s a shame these stories aren’t the norm, but it is fantastic to see that these stories are increasingly being shared at other times of the year, and that modern examples of are becoming so much more frequent!

 Do you have any advice to women considering a STEM Undergraduate degree?

If you’re interested in STEM, you should definitely pursue this route! Studying STEM is an invaluable pathway to impacting the world, and along the way you’ll have so much fun.

Plus – we need you! It’s been shown time and time again that groups of diverse thinkers produce some of the best-scoped solutions. We really can’t do that if only 35% of STEM undergraduates and 19% of engineering students are female.

Who is your biggest influence?

My biggest influence is my mother. Her resilience, grace, intelligence and prudence are amazing to me. She’s overcome incredible challenges through the grace of God.

Other individuals whom I’m inspired by include Michelle Obama – she’s an excellent example of using your platform to influence the world for the better; Cheryl Sandberg – her Ted Talk urging women to ‘sit at the table’ often resonates through my head; and Adaobi  Adibe and Kike Oniwinde – they’re phenomenal women making waves in internationally in tech. They’re also both London born and bred, and they demonstrate that you can achieve anything if you have a mindset of excellence.

Can you tell us more about the aims of the Materials, Mionerals and Mining's Women in Materials Committee and how you became involved? 

I’m a member of the Institute of Materials, Minerals (IOM3) and Mining’s Women in Materials (WIM) committee. The committee’s role is to aims to bring together the female members of the institute and support them in their careers.

Some of the awesome things which the committee has done in the past include:

  • spring and autumn seminars, where you can hear professionals in Materials Science speak about how they obtained their role in academia or industry, network and learn about a variety of resources which could be useful in your career journey
  • International Women in Engineering Day events; these events focus on public outreach, and are a fun and educational day out for families, each year with a different theme and location across the country

I became involved with them after inviting the IOM3 to Imperial’s first Materials Careers Fair, which I organised while I was Vice President of Imperial’s Materials Science Society (MatSoc). I had previously been an attendee at IOM3 events, including International Women in Engineering Day 2018, and after talking with the representative at the Careers Fair, I accepted their invitation to attend their next meeting, mostly out of curiosity. By the end of that meeting, I found myself invited onto the committee, and decided to accept. My morals of this story: a) get involved with things you’re passionate about, b) talk to people and always be open to learn.

Emmeline Poole

Image of Emmeline PooleEmmeline is a third year student studying MEng Materials Science and Enigneering in the Department of Materials. 

Why did you choose to study your programme?

I first heard about Materials Science and Engineering at a university open day. I was going around the engineering department when I saw it on the list of talks for the day and not knowing what it was at all, I decided to go along to the talk to find out. I thought the subject sounded so interesting and something that I would definitely want to do, as I had interests in Chemistry, Physics and Maths and wanted to do a subject which allowed me to use them all equally; so Materials Science and Engineering really was the perfect match. I first heard about Imperial when I was then researching places that offered a Materials Science and Engineering course; it isn’t a subject that it offered everywhere and so Imperial was almost immediately one of my options. As I did more research though, I realised how amazing Imperial was and felt overwhelmed with the feeling that I would just never be good enough to get in. Then came my first real experience of Imperial; I came for a Materials and Physics Sutton Trust Summer school in 2016. It was so much fun, I learnt a lot and made some real friends for life. Overall, the fact that I had such a great experience with my time at Imperial, the fact that they have such an amazing reputation, and that the facilities in the Materials department are second to none meant that Imperial was the university I really wanted to go to; and here I am.

 Do you have any advice to women considering a STEM Undergraduate degree?

“Do it!” If you are really interested in any STEM subject, and you want to go into further education then do it. Don’t listen if people are trying to put you down or tell you it’s a “man’s subject”, they’re wrong. STEM is for everyone, and as long as you are passionate for it then that is all that matters. Even if you might not think you are good enough and that you’re not going to get onto a course, you should still go for it, because if you don’t apply at all then you’re not going to get on either; and the ones who always think they’re not good enough usually are the one’s who are, believe me.

Is there a particular female who inspires you?

It sounds cliché but I would have to say without a doubt my mum. She has had a lot of family responsibilities throughout her life, some of which resulted in her never going to university herself even though she wanted to. But she has a really successful career now regardless of that, and she has always supported me no matter what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to leave school at 16 and do an apprenticeship, leave at 18 and work, or go to university; as long as I was doing something that made me happy, she was supportive of it. She has always made time for me; helped me with my schoolwork, university applications and internship applications etc., and pushed me to be the best version of myself whilst still excelling in her own career, and for that she inspires me every day.

 What change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?

I would like to see less stereotypes; and that goes for everything, not just STEM. The media pushes a certain rhetoric every day on what girls should be and do to be considered “perfect” and it really bothers me. This includes but is most definitely not limited to: beauty standards; what subjects women should study; what jobs they should be doing; how they should act; what they should wear etc. The vast majority of women are put down in some way on a daily basis, and it is even worse when it is other women putting women down. The change I want to see is probably too huge to occur in the space of just one generation, but it has already begun a little bit. I want every single person who identifies as a woman to be able to look how they want and do what they want and to be supported by others in this without fear of ridicule or judgement. I want this because so many young girls have confidence issues usually related to any or all of these things; and sometimes it stops them from pursuing things they want to, including the study of STEM and STEM careers, and I don’t think that’s fair. I want a change so that young girls to know they can grow up to be whoever and whatever they want to be.

Emily Ningyi Li

 Image of Emily LiEmily is a first year Undergradute student, studying BEng Materials Science and Engineering in the Department of Materials.

Why did you choose to study your programme?

Tackling the effects of climate change has been a goal of mine like many others at a critical time like now. Luckily, during my search for programmes, I stumbled across Materials—a perfect combination of the subjects I thoroughly enjoy, and one that equips me with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to make a profound impact from industry to quotidian life.

Do you notice any barriers while studying a STEM subject?

With fortune, I have not yet faced any barriers first-hand while studying a STEM subject. However, the lack of female presence in the field and industry as shown by the demographic of my lecturers and fellow students still suggests the prevalent issue of today’s society.

 If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Live the life you love. Care less about the expectations others impose on you—it’s impossible to please everyone, so why not have faith in yourself and keep thriving?

 Is there a particular female who inspires you?

I would say Michelle Obama. She is everything I aspire to be: strong, confident, kind. Not only does she hold herself up with intellect, class, and a heart full of empathy, she continues to inspire girls from across the world to be better versions of themselves; to stand up for their beliefs; to not let anything impede their dreams as long as they still dream it.