LoLo MRes Supervisor, Research Associate – Loughborough University
While growing up in China, I had never thought about what I wanted to do when I grow up. All I was told/taught back then was to study hard so that I can get in a good university. I was good at maths and physics but not very interested in geology and history, so I chose to study science over art in secondary school. A few year later, I arrived at university to study building services engineering without knowing much about it. Surprisingly, the ratio between female and male students in my class was about 50/50. After graduation, I worked as assistant engineer on a construction site, and again, surprisingly, there were quite a few female engineers. I later did a MPhil and worked as a research assistant in Hong Kong, before I embarked on a PhD here in the UK. All my research focuses on modelling and simulating renewable energy systems.
Up to this point, I had never felt like I was an outsider in the male dominated engineering field, or that I was in a disadvantaged position because I am a woman. The real challenge came shortly after I had my daughter. I had to take a career break before I could start looking for a job, and at the top of my criteria was flexible working. I was very lucky to get a position here at Loughborough University, where colleagues are friendly, supportive and understanding. As a working mum with young children, the dilemma that I often face is career vs. family. The title of an article in the Guardian that I read a few years ago struck me profoundly: “You want a career and a baby? Who do you think you are?”.
Over the years while working and raising a young family, I have learnt a lot about myself, my children, and my family. Today, I can answer the question posed by that article confidently: YES, I want a career and a baby (or two), and I am just an ordinary woman. Life is an art of juggling in all forms, I might not be able to have everything at the same time, no one can, but I can have everything at different times. I take time off to look after my family when it needs me the most, and I concentrate on my work whenever I can get help with the childcare, paid or not paid.
I am passionate about my research. As a building energy and system modeller working in academia, I can use the most advanced methods and techniques to investigate complicated problems. The outputs of my research can help practitioners in the industry to understand the limitations of current practices, and to make a better-informed decision in system design.
If you are an applicant considering doing a PhD in LoLo-CDT, I would say, go for it! Apart from a general bursary and research budget (for yourself!) and stimulating research environment, you will start with a cohort of students and all of you will go through the key stages at the same time. While teaching MRes courses and supervising MRes dissertations, I have witnessed importance of having peer support when in a challenging situation. If you are a female applicant, I would say, definitely go for it! Come and join us, we need more highly talented women to work this field!