Dr Jenni Sidey Research Associate in Experimental Turbulent Combustion in the Energy, Fluid Mechanics and Turbomachinery Division.
My advice is to seek out supportive people who trust in you and your abilities, which should come solely from the value of your work. This solid backing of friends and colleagues will allow you to pursue whatever career you may want to achieve.Dr Jenni Sidey
How did you get into Engineering?
At school I was always interested in the sciences, particularly Maths and Physics. I enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering course at McGill University and had a wonderful thermodynamics instructor. I did an honours project on alternative energy in his lab, which stemmed into an interest in combustion research.
What are you doing now and what are your plans for the future?
I came to the University of Cambridge in 2011, working towards a PhD with Professor Nondas Mastorakos. I am now a Research Associate in Experimental Turbulent Combustion and Nondas acts as my Principal Investigator.
I am currently applying for various academic positions, hoping to continue a career in research and teaching. Although my research takes priority, I’m finding that it’s important to consider the level of support offered to female academics in engineering at each institution I apply to.
What motivates you?
I love teaching and have particularly enjoyed the outreach work I have had the privilege of being involved in during my time in Cambridge. After the first year of my PhD, I realised that I hadn’t done much outreach work since leaving McGill. I was encouraged by Maria Kettle, the Department’s outreach officer, and Dr Michelle Oyen to help start Cambridge Robogals. Robogals is an international, not-for-profit, student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in Engineering, Science, and Technology through fun and educational initiatives aimed at girls in primary and secondary school. I worked with two undergraduates, Ester Sidebottom and Carly Brooker. Together we organised and ran a number of local events http://www.eng.cam.ac.uk/news/robogals and were invited to help out with the BBC Make it Digital Campaign in the summer of 2015. We ran events around the UK with the BBC team, teaching people of all ages how to program.
Ester is now in the final year of her degree in the Department of Engineering and is running regular Robogals events, including two family workshops during the Cambridge Science Week.
What has helped your career – fellowships, support from the Department, inspirational teachers and colleagues?
I’m fortunate to have had excellent supervisors who have always been extremely supportive. They have helped me to build a network of female engineers both within the Department and in our greater field of research. Women within the Department, including Professor Ann Dowling, have taken the time to give me advice about an interviews and job prospects. When I was preparing for a lecture for my first academic job interview, I received an enormous amount of support and feedback from both my supervisor and other professors in my division.
How have you overcome challenges and knockbacks in your career?
Women are still under-represented in engineering, so without a good support network, it can be quite isolating. Although the Engineering Department is generally very supportive I occasionally come across negative or misogynistic comments or more subtle forms of sexism. In order to try and improve things, I strive to be honest about these attitudes to facilitate discussions on these topics. We must talk about things if we want to encourage other women to enter and stay invested in engineering fields. Two years ago, I joined the Department’s Athena Swan Committee to try and encourage and participate in such discussions.
How have you managed to balance family life and other interests with your career?
Although I’ve not yet been faced with the task of balancing family responsibilities and my career, the Department has encouraged me to pursue my outreach work and has offered flexibility whenever I’ve needed it.
Do you have any role models?
Absolutely - Jackie Chen is certainly a role model of mine. She is a phenomenal combustion scientist at Sandia National Labs in California. She is confident and incredibly accomplished.
Do you have any advice for women who are considering pursuing a career in Engineering?
My advice is to seek out supportive people who trust in you and your abilities, which should come solely from the value of your work. This solid backing of friends and colleagues will allow you to pursue whatever career you may want to achieve.