2010 WISE WISE Leadership and Inspiration to Others Award Winner

Professor Helen Atkinson CBE, FRENG

Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Cranfield University's School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing

What three words sum up your STEM journey so far?

Rewarding, exciting, challenging

Who/what inspired you to join the STEM sector?

A teacher at school who made it fun to ask questions and especially to ask questions he didn’t know the answer to.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

If something is hard don’t stop trying. And – if you don’t understand something ask! There will almost certainly be someone else in the room who doesn’t understand it and is immensely grateful you have asked the question.

What advice would you give to women who are #1ofTheMillion working in STEM today?

Aim high. Stretch yourself outside your comfort zone. Embrace opportunities to grow and develop.

What advice would you give to women and girls to encourage them to join the STEM sector?

What a great career! Exciting. Interesting. Lots of people interaction. Change the world.

Given the unique challenges we face due to COVID-19, how can we keep gender balance and diversity on the agenda?

The pandemic has made us slice through to what is essential but it has also made is acutely conscious of what we really value in our working environments – the joy of spontaneous conversation, the creativity of being a team together in a room. It has forced us to work differently. All of this is acutely relevant to the diversity agenda.

What can organisations do to increase/inspire more women into STEM?

I am an engineer so I am going to answer this question from an engineering point of view. I chair ‘This is Engineering’ for the Royal Academy of Engineering. This is a campaign to encourage more young people to consider careers in engineering, especially those who might not have thought it was for them. It is a social media campaign which has now been going for three years with wonderful support from major industrial partners and from universities. We have had over 40 million video views of these short videos by young people in our target age group of 15-17 year olds and with almost equal gender balance. There is evidence that young people are thinking again about their career choices as a result of the campaign. What can organisations do? Support the campaign and the annual ‘This is Engineering’ Day!

What do you envision for the STEM sector over the next 20 years?

We can change the world (and change it for the better). Just look at the pandemic – none of the vaccines work could be accomplished without scientists and engineers. None of the care for those acutely sick in hospital could be achieved without scientist and engineers. And look at the Climate Change challenge – scientists and engineers can really help the world to tackle those challenges.

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