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International Women's Day 2017

Margi Vilnay - Structural engineer and lecturer

Margi is a structural engineer. Her career to date has included research on innovative techniques for protecting historical structures in earthquake-prone areas as part of an EU research group, researching the effects of blast loads on reinforced concrete structures and analysing the structural integrity of offshore platforms in the North Sea as a structural engineer for Atkins, the global engineering consultancy.

Tell us more about your career…

In early 2016, I joined Abertay as a Structural Engineering Lecturer. This is a really exciting time for us with the launch of the new BEng/MEng (Hons) in Civil and Environmental Engineering. This is a great time to be involved in teaching at Abertay.

Inspired by…

There are so many inspiring women around, but I’m going to have to choose an engineering-related role model. The British engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (1854 – 1923), known as Hertha Ayrton. Despite her father dying when she was seven and having to shoulder some of the responsibilities for her eight siblings, she was able to develop her passion for science and mathematics with help from extended family. Hertha attended Girton College, Cambridge, where she studied mathematics and although she passed the Mathematical Tripos in 1880 she was not granted her academic degree because, at the time, Cambridge gave only certificates and not full degrees to women. Hertha passed an external examination at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree in 1881.

Throughout her life, Hertha published papers, registered patents and was a trailblazer for other women. In 1899, she was the first woman ever to read her own paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and was the first female to be elected as a member of the IEE. Hertha was also the first woman to win a prize from the Royal Society, the Hughes Medal, however, as a woman she was not allowed to present her paper before the society. Her contribution to science was widely recognised and led the British Association for the Advancement of Science to allow women to serve on general and sectional committees.

Advice for young women…

Believe in yourself! If you love problem-solving, learning new things and are curious about how things work, then engineering could be the right profession for you. The variety of careers available is amazing and the positive outcomes for society are profound (just think about the new Queensferry crossing). It can, however, seem quite daunting at times. Women are still underrepresented in the profession – they make up only around 9% of engineers. So, believe in yourself and stick with it! More women in the profession would lead to a more diverse engineering culture, which would be better for everybody.

International Women’s Day...

Is about is us taking stock of the global situation. We should celebrate the achievements of women, but also use the day as a means of creating awareness that the situation is not as great in many parts of the world. In only 10% of low-income countries, gender parity exists at the secondary school level. In these countries, 61 million girls remain out of primary and lower-secondary school. Personally, I would love a world in which equality existed everywhere and in every area. Then there would then be no need for a day celebrating women.