Celebrating women in engineering with PhD student Hashini Thirimanne
To mark International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2017, we talk to PhD student Hashini Thirimanne, to get the inside track on what attracted her to engineering and the exciting discoveries she’s making every day.
Hashini is based in the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) within the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and has recently won Surrey’s ‘3 Minute Thesis’ competition 2017.
What inspired you to get into engineering?
Being an engineer was not my childhood dream, but I’ve always loved science and maths. What really inspired me was studying a nanotechnology module as part of my chemistry degree: I was fascinated by what these tiny structures could do.
Did you have a female role model in engineering or science when you were younger?
The person who comes to mind is my sister who is three years older and studied medical sciences: it was natural for me to follow in her footsteps towards a career in science. Also, going to an all-girls school at home in Sri Lanka, I was surrounded by girls and female teachers which taught me how much women can achieve.
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD programme after your undergraduate degree?
I love doing research – finding new things is the main point for me! The unique thing about this PhD opportunity is that the ATI is a truly multidisciplinary centre which actually delivers something to society.
What’s your PhD project all about, in a nutshell, and why do you find this such an exciting topic?
I’ve developed an ‘X-ray detector’ which is thinner than paper, flexible, and powered by watch batteries. This can be used in cancer therapy to accurately evaluate how much dose needs to be given to patients and – because it can be wrapped around the relevant part of the human body – performs better than conventional detectors.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your chosen discipline?
I think the most rewarding thing is that my project combines chemistry, physics and nanotechnology as well as engineering – and hopefully it will lead to something that improves people’s lives.
What are your future career ambitions?
I plan to continue working on my detector, which we have now filed a patent on, and hopefully see it being used in hospitals and other environments such as airports.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female engineering and science students?
Challenge yourself and be a hard worker. When I started my PhD I had to learn the ABCs of physics and engineering because I knew little about these areas. It was tough to begin with but ultimately rewarding.
Do you feel that enough is being done to encourage women to pursue a career in engineering?
I think things have changed a lot, and we can now see more female engineers rising, but there’s always more that can be done. Often girls’ mindsets are made up early on, so home influence and school are really important.
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.