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Women in Engineering

Trinity is the place to be for female Engineering students
Katie Petherbridge, Engineering with Management student

As the CAO deadline looms, many female students in secondary school are apprehensive about nominating engineering programmes of study – with stereotypes of what engineering involves (or doesn’t!) and whether they will socially and academically comfortable in such an environment. Gender balance in engineering programmes is an international issue of concern and one that Trinity College takes very seriously and has been working on for many years.

Prof. Kevin Kelly explains “The engineering profession, including engineering educators, don’t always do a very good job of communicating to the public what engineering is about – what options there are in terms of study and career and what the impact of the engineering profession is on our daily lives. It is a particularly acute problem with female students. We take a three pronged approach in TCD – firstly trying to better understand the issues involved through researching the problem, secondly through outreach to communicate with potential students, and thirdly by working to ensure that we have an environment that welcomes, values and promotes diversity. We work with other institutions on collaborative research projects to understand the problem, we run our annual engineering summer school for girls, and we have a system of student peer mentoring, our tutoring system and our Equality unit, with initiatives such as Athena Swan are evidence of our commitment to this important issue”.

Professor Garret O’Donnell, course director of the Engineering with Management programme, elaborates “Only 17% of students entering engineering programmes in Irish higher education last year were female. In Trinity last year we had 27% female students entering our general engineering programme and 44% female students in our engineering with management programme. These aren’t one-offs, the trend has been increasing and we have consistently been performing better than average – which I think we can attribute to the hard work we do in this area.

Current Engineering with Management student Katie Petherbridge spoke of her experience “In school I hadn’t even considered engineering, it just wasn’t on my radar or talked about in my circles as an option. A professor from Trinity came to our school and made a presentation about engineering and it showed me that this could be an interesting option for me. I came to the TCD summer school in engineering where I got to experience some real hands-on engineering activity, which I loved, and to see what it would be like to be a student. After that, it was an easy choice and I’m delighted I came here.

Asked about her favourite aspects, Katie replied “I’ve loved the projects I’ve got to work on – designing and making guitars in second year and then last year having the opportunity to work with other universities and to travel to amazing places as part of my degree – like Colombia and Stanford. I also worked in Jaguar Land Rover last summer and got to see how all I’ve learnt can be used in the workplace. All those experiences came to bear in the projects I worked on in the workplace, and it was something that I hadn’t really fully appreciated until I saw the impact they had on the quality of my work, my experience with my colleagues and the input I was able to have on a large multinational company.

Read more about TCD's engagement in Athena SWAN.