Women are capable of excelling in engineering

On 23 June, International Women in Engineering Day celebrated the ongoing contributions of women in a profession that spans multiple sectors and continues to shape the future.

Women are capable of excelling in engineering

Sivapriya Mothilal Bhagavathy

On 23 June, International Women in Engineering Day celebrated the ongoing contributions of women in a profession that spans multiple sectors and continues to shape the future.

In this exclusive interview with The Statesman, Sivapriya Mothilal Bhagavathy, lead R&D engineer at the power networks demonstration centre at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom, talks about her journey throughout the years.

Following are the excerpts:


Q. Please tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in engineering.

Growing up, I was always fascinated by mathematics and its applications. This interest naturally led me to pursue a degree in engineering. I completed my bachelor’s in electrical and electronics engineering at the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. In my third year, I took the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering and scored an all-India rank of 250, which opened doors to pursue my master’s in energy systems at IIT Bombay. After IIT, I joined Reliance Industries Limited as a system design manager for their solar PV group. My goal was to understand the industry and then pursue a doctoral degree based on industry challenges. After four years at Reliance, I started applying for PhD scholarships and landed a fully funded position at Northumbria University, where I researched barriers to solar PV systems in the UK.

Q. What led you to specialise in power networks, and what do you find most exciting about this field?

During my undergrad days, I stumbled upon the harsh realities of climate change and its devastating impacts. That’s when I knew I had to do my part in mitigating its effects. I became obsessed with renewable power generation and how it could transform our electricity networks. The crazy-fast evolution of low-carbon technology has created a whole new world of challenges and opportunities for innovation. What really gets me excited is figuring out how all these new technologies interact and can be integrated seamlessly without disrupting the whole system. That’s what drove me to specialise in this sector, and honestly, it still blows my mind.

Q. Please describe your current role as the lead R&D engineer at the power network demonstration centre at the University of Strathclyde.

As the lead R&D engineer at the power networks demonstration centre at the University of Strathclyde, I lead technology research in the whole energy system, including technology scouting, identifying, and prioritising ground-breaking innovation and business model concepts in the low-carbon energy sector. I’m also the project lead for the Whole Energy System Accelerator (WESA), a £5 million investment from the Scottish Government and the University of Strathclyde. As part of WESA, I’m designing and developing an infrastructure facility to demonstrate low-carbon heating technologies and hydrogen systems in ‘real-world’ conditions.

Q. Can you share a professional accomplishment that you are particularly proud of and explain why it holds special significance for you?

I’m particularly proud of achieving chartered engineer status from the IET. This recognition demonstrates my high level of competence in technical, people management, and project management skills, as well as my commitment to continuous professional development (CPD). It’s a testament to my hard work and dedication to staying at the forefront of my field, and it’s a great feeling to know that my expertise is recognised by industry leaders.

Q. Were there any challenges you faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was time management during my PhD days. As a mother, I had to balance research with raising my daughter, who was only four at the time. I had to be extremely strict about how I spent my time and regularly monitor my progress to ensure I completed my research within the funded duration of three years. I successfully defended my thesis within 3.5 years of starting the research.

Q. What are a few emerging areas in engineering that you believe hold great potential for innovation and development?

I’m excited about the potential in several areas. The three top ones that come to mind are as follows: First is power electronics, crucial as we move towards a low-carbon economy, helping with renewable energy integration, energy storage, and electric transportation. Second is the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), as they can help optimise energy distribution, predict demand, and identify improvement areas, making the system more efficient. Last, but not least, is cyber-security, which is essential as our energy systems become more connected and the risk of cyber threats grows. Developing robust cyber-security measures is crucial to maintaining the reliability of our energy supply.

Q. What are a few common misconceptions about the engineering profession, particularly for women, that you would like to address?

One common misconception is that engineering is only about technical skills. While technical skills are essential, so are soft skills like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. Another misconception is that women aren’t interested in or capable of excelling in engineering fields. This outdated stereotype can discourage young women from pursuing engineering careers and undermine their confidence. Lastly, some think the engineering field is inhospitable to work-life balance, especially for women with family responsibilities. While engineering can be demanding, many organisations now offer flexible work arrangements, parental leave, and supportive programmes to accommodate employees’ diverse needs. By addressing these misconceptions, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment.

Q. What advice would you give to young women and girls who are considering a career in engineering?

My advice to young women and girls considering a career in engineering is to believe in themselves and not let anyone, including themselves, doubt their abilities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and seek out mentors, teachers, or online resources when needed.

Q. How can educational institutions and workplaces better support women pursuing careers in engineering and technology?

Educational institutions and workplaces can better support women by providing bias training, mentorship programmes, flexible work arrangements, and fostering a work culture where asking for help is encouraged. Creating an inclusive environment where women’s contributions are valued and recognised is key to encouraging more women to pursue and thrive in engineering and technology careers.