UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering


ONG celebrates INWED 2023

23 June 2023

The Optical Networks Group at UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering celebrates International Women in Engineering Day.

Picture of ONG celebrating INWED 2023

National Women in Engineering Day is an international awareness day introduced by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to support, inspire, and raise the profile of women in engineering. Launched in the UK on 23 June 2014 to celebrate its 95th anniversary, it received UNESCO patronage in 2016 and went global for the first time in 2017 adopting its now familiar moniker, INWED.

As part of our INWED 2023 celebrations, we would like to take the opportunity to showcase some of our fantastic students and researchers.

Anastasiia Vasylchenkova – Postdoctoral researcher & Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow

Picture of Anastasiia working in lab

What motivated you to pursue a career in engineering?

I have enjoyed in school exploring the reasons for events and identifying causal relations. Science can bring models, models can be validated and upgraded, and approved models can give insights on how to build machines and tools. It always inspired me and motivated me to learn more.

Have you faced any challenges as a young woman in engineering? How did you overcome them?

In my school and university, there were few girls, but it helped value these co-support relationships - my school and university friends are mainly my life-long friends. This unity is quite helpful when facing problems with employment, when it comes to difficult life choices and dilemmas between family and career. 

The biggest gender-related obstacle I cannot stop shouting about is immigration barriers. As an unmarried young woman, I am always seen as a risky visa applicant. I have received several rejections for UK and US visas, when my male colleagues at the same profile have gotten them easily. It does not matter to the visa officers that I am a scientist and that it is a part of my job to present my research and build a professional network at the conferences. Visa delays and rejections did a lot of harm to my career.

Do you have any positive role models or mentors in engineering that you look up to? 

I was always lacking a role model. Without such a person all choices and moves feel a bit blind - like explorers were travelling through Africa or searching for the South Pole. The most inspiring lady I met was the sister of my former colleague, a mother of two and a professor in mathematics at Goteborg University. Though, when I think that she had to work for several years in another Swedish university north of the Arctic Circle, it seems to be a challenging work environment for me.

The concept of the role model is problematic. On the one hand, it is our duty indeed to take care of future generations of girls and demonstrate to them the pros and cons of an engineering career. Although, it is just more burden for female professionals, which we get extra anyway: we serve on committees for gender balance, and we are expected to do more on average. I am not sure we should expect all female engineers to take this burden.

What do you think the future will look like for women engineers?

I do not think the current trend will change significantly. My main hope is that equality will be achieved by changing the system, recruitment procedures and flexibility in working patterns, but not by more training in resilience and imposter syndrome. We will see more women in engineering and in management, which will boost creativity and growth. Together with the current trend of work-life balance improvement, it will help in achieving a healthier society.

What advice you give to young girls and women who are interested in engineering?

It makes perfect sense to be driven by passion: on making a better world, on developing the technologies of tomorrow. But it also makes sense to be driven by value for oneself: career steps and accepting offers should never hurt personal life. Do not hesitate to put yourself, your values, and your priorities, into consideration when speaking of workload, training, position, salary, and leave policy.

Rekha Yadav – PhD Student

Picture of Rekha next to poster

Please provide a summary of your background, and what your research entails.

I did my bachelors in Electronics Instrumentation and Control Engineering, seeing a lot of applications of it around me inspired to pursue Masters in RF and photonics. The strong interconnect of physics and electronics engineering has developed my curiosity into a solid interest. Currently, I am doctoral student at UCL working with Dr Filipe Ferreira on the “Beyond Exabit Optical Communications” project. Our goal is to advance optical communications beyond the capabilities of single-mode technology while utilising sustainable energy per bit.

What motivated you to pursue engineering?

Engineering is a field that needs you to analyse real-world issues and then come up with original solutions to them. I have always wanted to contribute to the advancement of humanity. Engineers can profoundly impact the world's development by creating systems and technologies that improve people's lives, and this motivated me to pursue engineering. It has been a genuinely enjoyable and fulfilling experience, inspiring me enough to continue engineering.

Have you faced any challenges as a young woman in engineering? How did you overcome them?

Engineering itself is quite challenging as the world is growing rapidly, so you have to develop yourself technically. Being a woman, I did have certain difficulties both at personal and professional levels. Personally, such as convincing my family that engineering is not "only a male field" and then moving abroad for further studies alone was a difficult task. Keeping your point while listening to others views has helped me a lot.

Professionally, many women face challenges, including myself, such as not receiving enough value from male colleagues, occasionally feeling ignored owing to gender and lacking confidence due to the fewer females in the workplace. Becoming more curious, being adamant about your statement, trying to express myself better and supporting the comment technically helped me get beyond them on several occasions.

Do you have any positive role models or mentors in engineering that you look up to? 

Every struggling and hard-working person enough for their dreams about whom I read or see around me inspires me greatly. In engineering, I look forward to Kalpana Chawla as my role model. Her lines, “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it”, always stays with me.

Whereas outside engineering, my mother had the most significant positive impact on me. I have seen her managing multiple tasks and have learned to fight various adversities determinately from her. She is the epitome of patience, persistence, and hard work. These qualities have helped me overcome inevitable situations.

What do you think the future will look like for women engineers?

I believe things are greatly progressing in terms of gender equality and opportunities provided to them. Flexibility in working hours is also provided by many industries these days. So, I hope to see more females pursing engineering in the future.

Finally, what advice you give to young girls and women who are interested in engineering?

If you feel compelled to do it, do it with love. Always be learning new things and keep your mind open. Be considerate, logical, and impartial. When things start to go awry, keep yourself calm. And try not to overthink being a woman; instead, try to become the best person.

A look back at ONG’s INWED celebrations

The Faculty of Engineering celebrated International Women in Engineering Day in 2021 by highlighting the achievements of outstanding women at UCL.

One of the individuals spotlighted in this series was our very own Professor Polina Bayvel, head of the Optical Networks Group.

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4taiYgVZPqo&list=PLuWCzI5CglJizKwH5OBzwK...


Image Credit

James Tye