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Using STEM outreach to make ‘learning’ so fun kids don’t even realise they’re doing it – Elspeth Keating, Materials and Manufacturing Research Fellow at WMG

Coventry-Very-Light-Rail project

Elspeth Keating is a research fellow in the Materials and Manufacturing team at WMG. Her undergraduate degree was in the marine industry but she opted for a Tata Steel sponsored Ph.D. at WMG, after which she took up her research post. One of the projects she’s currently working on is the Coventry Very Light Rail project. 

Elspeth-Keating - WMG
Elspeth Keating

“…It’s very rewarding to be able to show science in an appealing and fun way, and to see the school children interacting with sometimes quite complex scientific concepts without necessarily realising that this is ‘learning’…”

Choosing a Ph.D. in materials and manufacturing

When I finished my Master’s degree in naval architecture and small craft engineering I was reasonably certain I wanted to continue my studies. I had found the degree interesting but had an underlying curiosity that focused in on materials. I followed that up with a postgraduate diploma in advanced materials with a view of then joining industry.

Upon completing my diploma, I found myself drawn to research and development jobs which led me to the Industrial Case Award Ph.D. at WMG in Materials and Manufacturing, sponsored by Tata Steel.

Having an industrial sponsor to the Ph.D. made the research much more appealing to me as it had the potential of having a direct impact to industry and some ‘visible’ applications. Tata Steel, as a global steel manufacturer and supplier to the automotive industry, provided an exciting partner to work with, and a wealth of knowledge on the – then unknown to me – automotive sector.

My role

My current role is multi-faceted, which was the aspect that appealed to me the most. I have experiments to plan and conduct, reports and other documents to write, meetings with industrial partners and funding bodies, further project ideas to grow and expand, conferences to attend, students to supervise, and a never-ending stream of reading to do, to keep up with the latest developments in the fields.

Having started with a knowledge of boats and ships, and then moved to automotive, I have since moved again to the rail industry where we are looking to apply knowledge from the previous sectors to accelerate the growth and development of the sector. I find my role exciting, as it never ceases to challenge me.

Outreach work to showcase women in STEM and People Like Me

I worked for nearly ten years as a seasonal sailing instructor with children up to the age of 17, and I have always enjoyed being able to give back.

When I started my Ph.D. I was approached to assist with science demonstrations and other outreach activities, and from there have been involved in Royal Institution Masterclasses, the Cheltenham Science Festival, science days at the Royal Institution, as well as People Like Me days, which are aimed more specifically at showcasing women in STEM to school age girls interested in the topics but with questions and reservations concerning the realities of the job.

It’s very rewarding to be able to show science in an appealing and fun way, and to see the school children interacting with sometimes quite complex scientific concepts without necessarily realising that this is ‘learning’.

International Women in Engineering Day

I think International Women in Engineering Day is important as it helps to recognise and celebrate some of the incredible female engineers and scientists from around the world. I also think it is important as it provides a platform for discussion around the topic of women in engineering and by extension in STEM, the relevance of the day itself and possibly enables to challenge some misconceptions or misinformation that all tie in to the topic. Even if the existence of the day is only a conversation starter, it is a conversation worth having.

Coming up

Coventry-Very-Light-Rail-projectNext up for me is an exciting Very Light Rail project with Coventry City Council, and a part-time degree at the University of Birmingham to consolidate my rail knowledge. I’m always keen to learn more, and my recent move to the rail sector is the latest challenge.