[Interview] – Katherine Stevens – Challenges, Lessons, Support and Gratitude

[Interview] – Katherine Stevens – Challenges, Lessons, Support and Gratitude

Enigma People Solutions actively works with clients in the Photonics industry in the UK and internationally. Our Director, Ben Hanley, sits on the steering committee for EPSRC & SFI CDT in Photonic Integration & Advanced Data Storage = http://www.cdt-piads.ac.uk/. We recently interviewed Katherine Stevens, one of the PIADs students, about her views and experiences on the course, the photonics industry and being a woman in STEM.

In the 2nd and final part of this interview Katherine shares with me some of her personal challenges and what she is doing to invest and develop her own good habits to help her develop professionally and personally.

Thinking about your own career to this point are there any particular challenges that you have had to overcome?

The main one that stands out is becoming a wheelchair user. I became a wheelchair user the summer just after Covid began. That introduced quite a lot of challenges into my final year of my degree. It was very interesting. It was nice in that I worked with a lot of staff that I probably would have never met and never known. People who work behind the scenes in all of the different buildings. It meant that I spent a lot of time reading for my masters project but I couldn’t do a lot of the computer stuff for quite a long time at the beginning. So I learned how to get a lot of stuff done in one go and develop myself very quickly. The members of staff that I worked with were absolutely amazing in supporting me.

Something that PIADS has been amazing at has been ensuring that everything they do is accessible to me and wherever they need to they are supporting me.

I had a really interesting experience recently – I am on the core team for inclusion for Scouts and I am currently working on a project to create a group to help make scouts more a lot more accessible. I was pitching my idea to one of the steering groups and I was mostly talking about actions that were aimed at supporting very general every day stuff. There are other projects that are looking at creating adventurous activities more accessible but I’m mostly focussing on supporting leaders to create readily available information on accessibility for their meeting places. Changing the meeting places is unlikely to happen but you can provide information that helps people decide if you are the right scout group for them. The challenge was that some of the group were very keen and focussed on developing adventurous activities and whilst I fully support such that initiative I had to point out that having the ability to got to the toilet in a meeting place is the level we have to start at. There is very little point in starting adventurous activities if people can’t join the scout group in the first place due to lack of accessibility. I think that shows that people don’t understand the true extent of day-to-day difficulties for wheelchair users.


What good advice have you received so far that has helped you navigate your journey so far?

Recently as part of the CDT we did a module with Seagate and as part of that we were assigned an industry mentor and I had a really good conversation with him. I am well aware that I struggle with asking for help. So, I was asking how I prevent this block or overcome it because it can be quite a big barrier if you are struggling but can’t ask for help. So their advice was A) just practice asking for help for smaller things. B) remember that normally if you are really struggling with something it is probably reasonable that you are struggling, you are not silly to be asking for help it is reasonable to ask for help. A lot of people are placed specifically to help you. So, for example my supervisor and I have weekly meetings and mostly what these are for is for me to ask for help. The other people in my research group are there for me to ask help from, they have the experience and so normally they can help you and if not then they will encourage me to go and ask someone else. So, learning to ask for help is one of the main things. Then another example is from having experience from other women in STEM and other underrepresented people in STEM, witnessing them being confident has really helped me. It’s not that I was necessarily given the advice to be confident but seeing it in action has helped give me a lot more confidence to speak up and carry myself in a much more confident way to ensure that my voice is heard.

I have met Katherine a few times and what stands out is that this invested scientist channels her enthusiasm to drive her forward no matter what. Even when discussing becoming wheelchair bound in the final year of her undergraduate degree she talks of gratitude for what she learned, who she met and the support she has received.

Enigma People Solutions is an award-winning technology recruitment consultancy. We find technical leaders for the emerging and enabling technology industries. Visit our services page for more information. Visit our job search page for the latest vacancies in photonics, electronics, semiconductor, software and IoT in Scotland and the UK. Check out our blog page for the latest in the technology industry. You can get in touch with us hello@enigmapeople.com or call us on + 44 131 510 8150