UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering


International Women's Day 2021-how Professor Sarah Spurgeon 'chooses to challenge'

8 March 2021

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, we asked our Head of Department, Professor Sarah Spurgeon, about her experiences as a woman in STEM and the importance of challenging gender inequity.

Prof Sarah Spurgeon
  • Why did you choose to study Electronic and Electrical Engineering? 

I actually didn’t study Electronic and Electrical Engineering! At school, I had no real exposure to engineering and no visible role models. I went to university to study mathematics, having been inspired by my maths teacher who nurtured what has been a life-long interest in the power of mathematics to solve problems of practical and societal concern. At university, my talent for working on applied problems was spotted by my dissertation supervisor and it was via this route I became involved in control engineering, progressing to work with what was then British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) and eventually obtain a PhD in Electronics. 

  • What challenges did you face as a woman in STEM? 

I have been very lucky throughout my career to have received good support from mentors and colleagues. However, there have been challenges. At the university I worked for at the time, I was the first academic in engineering to take maternity leave. It was hard to be a pioneer and a constant struggle to get the balance right between my growing family and work commitments, which I know is a challenge for many women. 

  • How are you choosing to challenge gender bias and inequity?  

My work to challenge gender bias and inequity has grown from my own experience. I care passionately about ensuring all school children have the knowledge about engineering so that they can make informed decisions about their lives. I certainly did not have that knowledge, which is why I try to support EngineeringUK in their work to improve this for future generations. Inspired by those who supported me, I seek to support both colleagues and students, not only celebrating their successes but supporting them to feel completely at home as the fabulous engineers they are.