To mark International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2017, we talk to doctoral student Paschalia Mavrou to get the inside track on what attracted her to engineering and the exciting discoveries she’s making every day.
Paschalia is studying for a Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability within Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability, working with Unilever to explore ways of reducing food waste through better moisture migration management in food products.
What inspired you to get into engineering?
I really enjoyed physics at school as it helped me make sense of the physical world around us. My dad is a mechanical engineer so, growing up, he helped me to understand that mechanical engineering is nothing more than applied physics. I was sold!
Did you have a female role model in engineering or science when you were younger?
Not specifically, but at school in Greece I had wonderful teachers who didn’t see ‘male’ and ‘female’ students, but rather pupils who were willing to learn (or not).
Why did you decide to pursue a doctoral programme after your undergraduate degree?
After graduating I had the opportunity to work in a research centre where I collaborated with people from different backgrounds and disciplines. I found I particularly enjoyed breaking down a big problem into smaller tasks and solving it one step at a time. At this point I realised I needed a doctorate if I wanted to have a career in research.
What’s your project all about, in a nutshell, and why do you find this such an exciting topic?
Working with Unilever I’m modelling moisture migration in composite food systems during storage. Consumers tend to reject foods with altered sensory attributes due to moisture migration between the different compartments – for example a jam sandwich biscuit which goes soggy due to moisture from the jam. Reducing food waste is a key task in our fight against climate change, so solving this problem is very important.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your chosen discipline?
Research can be frustrating at times, but the moment something works it is hugely rewarding. It’s also great when you get recognition from other people working in the same field – during my PhD I’ve been awarded the 3rd prize in the Young Researcher Award at IChemE’s 2017 UK Particle Technology Forum. Having people stop you and say ‘this research is really interesting’ gives you confidence and spurs you on.
What are your future career ambitions?
I love learning new things and solving problems, so I definitely want to stay in research. One of the great things about working in academia is that you get to meet people from different disciplines and different backgrounds which can be very thought provoking.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female engineering and science students?
If you liked science at school, then study it at university! As you build up complexity you’ll find that you enjoy it even more.
Do you feel that enough is being done to encourage women to pursue a career in engineering?
I think the most important thing is to teach school children about each discipline so that they can make informed decisions about their studies. In one of my first lectures at university, we were asked to describe what a mechanical engineer does. Most students thought it just involved designing cars, and these were people who’d chosen to study mechanical engineering!
Engineering at Surrey
Supporting female engineers
The University of Surrey is strongly committed to equality of opportunity and promoting diversity for the benefit of all our staff and students.
We are proud to employ leading female academics across all four of our engineering departments. Their expertise and passion for their subjects provides an integral contribution to Surrey’s world-leading research and their teaching both inspires and informs the learning experience of our students.
We currently hold Bronze Athena Swan awards in multiple areas, including the Institutional Award and a Department Award for our Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.