International Women’s Day – Celebrating Women in AgriFoRwArdS 2022 (2)

AgriFoRwArdS would like to continue this weeks celebration of women in STEM by introducing Cohort 3 student, Bethan Moncur. Bethan is currently studying her MSc at Lincoln, and will be moving back to Cambridge (where she studied her BSc) for her PhD student.

We asked Bethan about her experience of joining the CDT and her inspiration for studying a STEM subject.

“I chose to study engineering at university because I enjoyed maths and physics at school, and I wanted a career that involved solving problems. I specialised in manufacturing engineering for my final two years because it sits at the point where technological developments meet people and organisations – to paraphrase one of my professors: ‘technological knowledge is necessary but not sufficient’. I think this highlights that studying or working in STEM industries is not all about equations and machines – it’s also about understanding people and the applications of technology. 

There are two key people that inspired me to pursue a PhD and join the AgriFoRwArdS programme: Dr Claire Barlow and Dr Letizia Mortara. Claire opened my eyes to the importance of sustainability in manufacturing – this piqued my interest in working in the agri-food industry due to the complicated relationship between food systems and environmental impact. Letizia made me aware of the AgriFoRwArdS programme and helped me overcome my reservations about applying. I was worried that I would struggle with the technical content in the MSc year because I didn’t know how to code – my advice for people thinking of applying for AgriFoRwArdS or other STEM programmes is not to let this put you off. I took a short online Python course before starting the MSc and now I have a new skill that I really enjoy – plus my course mates are all really supportive if I get stuck!

During summer internships, I became used to being the only woman in the engineering team. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be off-putting to feel ‘different’ from everyone else. These feelings can be overcome by finding role models that you identify with, either from within the organisation that you are studying/working in or elsewhere in the sector. 

It is important for people of all genders and from various backgrounds to join programmes such as AgriFoRwArdS to ensure that research does not unintentionally exclude portions of the population through hidden bias. An example of this from the robotics domain – there are reports that show females are more susceptible than males to cybersickness from virtual reality (VR) displays. Studies show that gender differences in cybersickness may relate to the interpupillary distance (IPD) in the VR display – designing them with both female and male users in mind could reduce cybersickness rates by having a wider adjustable IPD range [1].

I feel incredibly fortunate that I have had relatable role models to look up to and have been surrounded by women in STEM to support me through each step of my journey so far. I look forward to being inspired by more amazing people throughout my career and I hope that one day I can repay the favour for someone else.” 

[1] Stanney, K., Fidopiastis, C. and Foster, L., 2020. Virtual reality is sexist: but it does not have to be. Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 7, p.4.