Tell us a little bit about you:
I’m Gareth, a gay, autistic PhD student in the Institute for Energy & Environment at Strathclyde, by way of the Computer Science Department. I study how large, complex, power network optimisation problems can be simplified and solved faster on supercomputers to let us integrate more renewable, clean energy into our electricity networks. I love music, so when I’m not in the office I’m usually at an orchestra or band playing clarinet, saxophone, and Scottish fiddle. When I’m not doing that, I love cooking, adding to my problematic collection of houseplants, and playing video games.
What is your area of research and what project(s) are you working on now?
My research is on modern and future power networks with high levels of integrated renewable energy, and how to create tools to allow network operators to optimise and manage these networks with new complex dynamics. It’s a very hard problem to solve so I am looking at ways to simplify it and take advantage of high-performance computers to make accurate solutions available quickly. That way, we can add more clean, renewable energy and have a better idea of the effects changes we make to our electricity networks will have.
When was your interest in STEM/your field first sparked and why?
I grew up in a very technology-loving household, my Dad specifically. I remember being blown away by playing Black & White for the first time on my Dad’s PC, from then on I always had a love of computers and the world around me. Later, my Granda got me really interested in languages, which fed into my love of big interconnected systems.
Who or what inspired you to stick with STEM when you were younger?
I’d say my family encouraged me a lot to stick with computer science, and a lot of my close friends at school were all going to study STEM subjects at Uni. I had an amazing maths teacher who rekindled my love for maths and science after I went through a stint of not being interested anymore.
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?
I think that visibility can be quite poor, especially for LGBT+ people and disabled people. I’ve never felt excluded during my PhD, but there are no obvious inclusion directives for LGBT+ and disabled people. A supportive, inclusive STEM community would appreciate difference – I’d like to see role models and points of support. I’d like to see more awareness of autism spectrum disorders throughout the STEM community too, as science and technology tends to attract lots of us!
In your career, what are the moments that have made you proudest so far?
Getting a Merit for my MSc in Wind Energy, a completely different field from my original one, was a turning point for my self-esteem and confidence.
Since STEM career paths are rarely easy to navigate, what challenges have you faced along the way?
Moving into a new field meant I had to spend a lot of time learning basic engineering skills on my own outside of the MSc modules (calculus, imaginary numbers, mechanics, electromagnetism, etc.). Switching again into full power systems engineering was a difficult adjustment. I had to attend the Strathclyde summer school on physics as I didn’t even have a Standard Grade pass in physics! There’s definitely an expectation of hard work, which isn’t a bad thing. Attitudes towards doing things in engineering are a bit different from computer science and software engineering, so a little culture adjustment was necessary too.
Where do you find support to sustain you in your current career?
My family and friends are really supportive, and my supervisor is encouraging and interested in me and my work.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in STEM?
It’s not all dominated by stuffy old academics. They’re there, but you’ll also find some of the most interesting and unusual people working in STEM in all sorts of ways. It’s a lot more creative and expressive than people give it credit for and there’s a huge amount of variety. There’s a place for everyone to contribute in STEM, no matter what background you have. It’s about building a better future for everyone, together.
Fun question: Tell us two truths and a lie about you.
a) I grew up in Glasgow. b) I love whisky. c) I was in a newspaper once, with emo bangs, playing clarinet.