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Women in Engineering

Margi Vilnay - Lecturer, Structural Engineering

Margi joined Abertay in May 2016. Her career has spanned analysing the structural integrity of offshore platforms on the North Sea, earthquake engineering and seismic upgrades. With a PhD in the behaviour of reinforced concrete under blast loads, she has a particular interest in how dynamic loads affect structural behaviour.  

Why engineering?

I’ve always loved problem solving and building things. I think that designing something and seeing it come to life is what attracted me to structural engineering.

Inspirational women in engineering?

Currently I’m fascinated by Dorothée Pullinger. She was a remarkable woman and totally unconventional for her time. She was the manager of Galloway Motors in the 1920s where she hosted an engineering college for women and employed many local women. She remodelled and oversaw the production of the Galloway car – a light car designed for women – which won the 1924 Scottish Six Day Trials.

I recently had a fascinating chat with Dr Nina Baker about female engineers whose innovative work went unrecorded. The more I read about the subject, the more amazing women I discover.

Dr Nina Baker will be speaking at 'Gender Balance - Building the Future' at Abertay on 23 June.

What is your favourite feat of engineering?

There are so many amazing structures out there, from the pyramids to the international space station, but one that is close to my heart is the Eiffel Tower. Criticised by many when it was constructed in 1889, it has gone on to become one of the most recognised structures in the world.

For over 40 years it was the tallest man made structure in the world at 324 meters high, a feat I find amazing considering the lack of any kind of computational assistance which we so heavily rely on today.

The Eiffel Tower was also the cause of my first engineering argument with my dad. At the age of four I was adamant it was a bridge. As Eiffel’s company were very experienced bridge engineers who extended their bridge design principles in their design of the Eiffel Tower I think there was a valid basis to my argument. (Dad, I hope you're reading this!).

Career highlights and future goals?

I'm a typical engineer in that in hindsight I can always see ways of improving things. One of my career highlights was working with a talented group of engineers from Atkins to structurally assess an offshore platform in the North Sea.

I’m looking forward to taking my research (in structural behaviour under extreme loading such as blasts and impacts) forward, and have a few opportunities for collaboration. I'm also excited about teaching again. With the new BEng in civil engineering, this is a great time to be involved in teaching at Abertay.

Any advice for future female engineers?

Women are still under-represented in engineering: they make up around 9% of engineers. More women in the profession would lead to a more diverse engineering culture which would be better for everybody. However, it’s also about retaining the talent we have. A large percentage of women leave the profession.

Some of the professional institutes, like the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), offer scholarships. Others like EQUATE Scotland, offer work placements and support. Another way into engineering is the apprentice route which is currently receiving a lot of focus.

Stick with it! It can sometimes seem daunting but if you love problem solving, constantly learning new things, team work and doing things that will have a positive effect on people’s lives then it is the right career for you.

As an engineer you work as part of a team solving problems that have an impact on people’s lives in a diverse range of settings. What can be better than that?