What excites and attracts graduates to the Photonics industry
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 Emma Crothers one of the PIADS students about her views and experiences on the course, the photonics industry and being a woman in STEM.
When you’re thinking about looking out to the photonics industry in the UK or the EU, what excites you about what’s happening from what you can see just now?
What stands out about the UK photonics industry to me is about how enormous its economic value is to the country. I think UK photonics is worth around £14 billion as it stands, which is something similar to the UK pharmaceutical industry; it’s so surprising because this is still a technology which most of the general public have never heard of. There’s a massive potential for growth and it’s one of the top scientific areas receiving a huge amount of government support in order to support the UK growing its status as a key player in the European photonics market. This means that right now, the industry is a really rapid stage of development – there’s both the need for a high volume of multi-disciplinary scientists and the space in the market for young researchers to start their career in photonics and fast track themselves into roles which are in their infancy at the moment but have the potential to be enormously influential in where the UK goes in its science policy.
From a personal perspective, I chose to do my PhD in the UK, and in Northern Ireland specifically, because I want to contribute to the science which affects the community I grew up in. Truly, I think photonics has the potential to do that, and that’s what excites me about it most.
What advice would you give to the industry to help increase the number of women and girls involved in STEM subjects, but also in the photonics industry particularly?
There are capable women coming out of secondary school every day, university every day, and the reason that they aren’t thinking about research or photonics when they think about their future career is because they don’t know what it is. They don’t know what opportunities are out there. You know, from my own experience, the one thing people don’t realize that keeps women out of research is how uncertain a career in field that you don’t see every day can feel – there is a cultural pressure which exists, which means women have to plan their career a little bit earlier, or at least think about it earlier just to ensure that they can hit all of the traditionally “female” milestones society gives them, you know, getting married, having children, maintaining a house, looking after older family members, that sort of thing. Increasing the engagement between companies and higher education research centres, like PIADS, with students at secondary and university level will demystify these roles in scientific R & D because most of the time, they’re not visible until you’re already a PhD student. I think this will support female students who are good at science in having the confidence and motivation to move away from the more clearly defined career paths in science like, you know, medicine, which doesn’t see the same gender gap as postgraduate research, and. to look at doctoral research in science and engineering as something that’s accessible to them, that doesn’t require a leap of faith or putting their other priorities on hold.
Just in general, there isn’t an awareness of the photonics industry among the UK public at all. It’s really a shame because it’s something we’re really good at, or getting really good at, in the UK, and we’re only going to see more of it in the consumer technology market. So, I think there needs to be some level of effort from the photonics industry and the scientific research community to just engage with local communities and showing how they are contributing to society. We’re seeing a really worrying rise in anti-intellectualism across the globe – 5G conspiracies and vaccine deniers as two big examples. There’s a massive correlation between that type of mentality and a lack of transparency in the scientific community and the general public. So I’d like to see photonics, our photonics industry, taking charge and rectifying that. Once you do that, you’re going to have much more engagement from all demographics, including women and underrepresented minorities as well.
I completely agree we need the industry to promote itself to the general public, not just to its partners, and funding revenue streams.
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