Karen Holford is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cardiff University. She joined the University’s School of Engineering in 1990, becoming its director in 2010 and going on to be appointed as Pro Vice-Chancellor of their College of Physical Sciences and Engineering in 2012. Before joining the university Karen worked in industry in a variety of roles and she has a passion for motor sports.
Karen spoke at the Soapbox Science event in Swansea on Saturday 6th June 2015. The title of her talk was: “Engineered structures for future societal needs”
Watching man land on the moon and seeing Concorde fly over my house
I got interested in technology through watching man land on the moon and seeing Concorde fly over my house! These events of my childhood made me curious and I wanted to know, “How did they get there?”, “How does a rocket work?”, “What is a sonic boom?” and similar questions which my parents found difficult to answer. I was always encouraged to research things myself, by reading and that’s where my passion started.
Working on big projects that require many skills
Primarily I am a mechanical engineer, but engineering is so multidisciplinary these days and I’ve always liked working on big projects that require many skills and that has given me an opportunity to work across many disciplines, hence I became involved across all of the engineering institutions and the Institute of Physics.
Currently I have two major roles; the primary role is as Pro Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, which is a senior leadership role in which I am head of the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, as well as a member of the University Executive Board.
Getting the best out of people and resources: Creating knowledge to transfer to our students and society
My objective in this role could be described as getting the best out of people and resources – this involves making sure we have an environment where we create knowledge and transfer that knowledge to our students and to society.
I have also retained my research role as a Professor and I work with a team of engineers in the Cardiff Structural Performance Laboratory. My major interest is the assessment of damage in structures, with an emphasis on accurate location of damage.
There is an historical stereotype of science being male dominated, but this is definitely getting better! I like to call this “myth busting”! There used to be a narrative among teachers and careers advisors that science “was not for girls” and that simply isn’t true.
There have been lots of activities to raise awareness of science and engineering as a great career choice for girls and boys. Girls are given more encouragement to study the STEM [science / technology / engineering / maths] subjects and this is resulting in more women entering this workforce. It is important to challenge these stereotypes in order to make sure we have the best people working in these important jobs – regardless of gender.
Women in leadership roles: A duty to speak out for equality and challenge outdated thinking
Women in leadership roles have a duty to speak out for equality, to challenge outdated thinking and any sexist attitudes that still exist and to help to create an environment where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed. I also think that we can do a lot by championing other women, and by acting as mentors and role models.
Speaking out for science and engineering
I was asked to apply for Soapbox Science and when I saw what fun people had last year I thought I’d give it a go! It’s important to speak out for science and engineering and to show people what we do, why it’s important and how interesting it is.
I haven’t had much time to prepare for my session, so I think it will be very impromptu, but I’m passionate about my work and I’m hoping that I can encourage the audience to think about engineering, thinking about how it impacts on their lives without them even noticing – I’ll definitely be looking for audience participation! Full details can be found here.