Becky Corley

STEM Equals Profiles - Becky Corley

Tell us a little bit about you:

I love dogs - I have a rescue lurcher called Flo. I love to dance and pretend I am one of Beyoncé’s backing dancers. I am training for my first triathlon, a half “Ironman” and I’m terrified. I’m into all things sustainable, vegan food, and a militant recycler and it’s why I’m doing a PhD in wind energy.

What is your area of research and what project(s) are you working on now?

My PhD is focused on improving reliability of wind turbine gearboxes. I’m thermally modelling operational gearboxes and testing my models using the University’s gearbox test rig. This is to understand the heat losses and how they propagate through the gearbox, and how this behaviour changes when there is a fault.

When was your interest in STEM/your field first sparked and why?

I’ve always been interested in STEM without actually realising. My Dad was very practical, always in the garage fixing up cars and building things around the house. He showed me how to change a tire, how to weld, and tried to explain how things worked. He once helped me make an apple press when I decided I wanted to make my own cider. I guess I always liked the idea of being independent and self-sufficient and being able to build and fix things for myself is a way of enabling this.

Who or what inspired you to stick with STEM when you were younger?

My Mum was the main driving force getting me to stick with STEM. She didn’t have the same opportunities I had when she was young so she was very encouraging when it came to pursuing going to university, especially studying engineering. I think she was also very conscious of STEM being a good career path, for example, when I was 16 and said I wanted to go to dance school, she firmly advised against it. I also had some encouraging maths and science teachers at school.

What challenges do you think STEM disciplines face with regards to issues of diversity and inclusion and what should a supportive, inclusive STEM community look like?

As woman in a male dominated environment, it can feel uncomfortable and can feel like you don’t belong and self-conscious just existing, especially in an industrial setting like a factory. It can be difficult trying to get people in that environment to understand this. A supportive, inclusive STEM community should be where people can feel like they can be themselves, without fear of comment, or being made to feel different or uncomfortable. Because the same type of people have been working in STEM, there’s an assumption that everyone acts or works in the same way and if you don’t, you feel like there’s something wrong with you, you don’t belong or you’re just inferior.

In your career, what are the moments that have made you proudest so far?

Getting a first in my undergraduate degree, throughout most of it I didn’t think I was clever enough and thought they’d made a mistake in letting me to study there. Being accepted to study a PhD was also a proud moment. I hope I can add completing a PhD to the list soon too.

Since STEM career paths are rarely easy to navigate, what challenges have you faced along the way?

I’m short with blond hair and an Essex accent so I’ve repeatedly been treated like a “silly little girl” at university and in work places to the point where I started to believe it myself - that I was stupid and not good enough. Building resilience against comments, inappropriate or offensive has been a challenge and on reflection, one of the biggest challenges is knowing how to respond. In the past, I just ignored it but, really, I should have reported it, especially when it comes from someone in a senior position.

Where do you find support to sustain you in your current career?

My Mum and late Dad were always so supportive and I always wanted to carry on to make them proud, to do things they never had the chance to do. My husband is also very supportive and I have some close female friends also working in wind energy research (Sofia, Eva, Elena, Estafania) who are so supportive and inspirational. I find support in myself because I think, if I don’t do this, who will? I find doing STEM ambassador visits in schools motivational, knowing young children will see a female engineer as “normal”. I think if I didn’t have this support network, I’d find it much harder to sustain my career. All the challenges aside, working in STEM is really exciting and that, in itself, is motivational.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in STEM?

Do it. It’s exciting, important and valued. Do it, not just for you, but also for future generations who will see the change that you can make.

Fun question: Tell us two truths and a lie about you.

a) I helped a sheep give birth. b) I’ve hiked over an active volcano. c) I’ve been to the top of a wind turbine.