Girls with Grit: Wendy Pring, KCP Ltd

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

I am Wendy Pring and I am a mum to three children and a chartered civil engineer who is passionate about the circular economy. I have been doing my current job for 14 years, which is Managing Director of KCP.

wendy sept 2016

We started the business when our two oldest children were little to help manage our childcare issues whilst still using our skill sets from our previous employed jobs. We undertake industrial maintenance across multiple sectors across the UK and have just obtained a UK patent for our fluid transfer system.

Where did your career start?

 I started working during holidays as part of my work experience whilst I was still at university with a small environmental consultancy known as John Dunbar and Associates.  I completed my last exam on the Friday and started work on the Monday with this company. By the time I had graduated the company had merged with two larger organisations to form Crouch Hogg Waterman, incorporating John Dunbar & Associates!  This was a fantastic opportunity for me and my work experience during university shaped the direction I wanted to go in for my career, which was into a more environmental aspect of civil engineering.

I worked with this consultancy for three years and then started to look for a company that I could gain on-site construction experience which was required to become a chartered civil engineer. This provides additional comfort to other people that you undertake your work in an honest manner and it is encouraged with most employers that you continue doing this. This resulted in me moving down to live around Chester/North Wales where I worked for a waste management company for 10 years. I was responsible for all site engineering works and managing all construction personnel in the construction of environmentally safe landfill sites. This was just at the point where legislation was brought in that demanded greater engineering construction design to protect the environment as well as trying to harness renewable energy from these to put in to the national grid.

Did you attend College/University?

I went to Strathclyde University in Glasgow to study Civil Engineering. I had wanted to be a vet and spent most of my secondary years at school and some at primary reading about and volunteering in vets and stables to gain experience with animals!  I didn’t quite get the grades I expected in my Highers and had to return to school for a 6th year. I wasn’t a great lover of school but I did know that I had to do it to allow me to go on and do something that I DID WANT TO DO!  I got some excellent advice from my sixth year physics teacher who told me, “look at this prospectus and see if there is anything that sounds interesting’. I liked the sound of environmental engineering but my physics teacher suggested civil engineering as a broader subject base from which I could specialise.  This is sort of what I have done. I started at university the following year, not really sure what I was studying and in a class of 66 with six girls.

Is there equality in this industry?

 I found in my early career that equality was not present and I did face some unnecessary comments from my working colleagues. Most of these were around the general topic of “you are a woman, how can you be an engineer?”  It was unexpected, as up to the point of my first job I had experienced nothing in my life that would suggest that there was any gender issues with any job.  I did not like it much and I did find a one-liner that managed to dismiss most of it.  I was even told on my first day of a new job, after a two-stage interview and a psychometric test, that they didn’t usually employ female engineers!

I didn’t discuss it with anyone until I was much older as my confidence levels were not that great before then. I received less pay than male counterparts.  However, at a point in the growth of one of the companies I worked for they restructured the company, bought other companies and made some people redundant. I was fortunate that during this period I was promoted to a national engineer for the company.  My advice to anyone is to ignore most of it and share it with those you trust.  Most of it, I know now, was jealousy. I naturally love the type of work that I do and my advice is to look at things that make you gasp or smile and work will seem less tiresome and other challenges will be less important.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Take part and network effectively from day one! Not with intention of getting anything but simply to learn. Go along and listen to people at conferences and understand the wider nature of work and life and how you can participate.

I think it is important that girls understand the value that they can offer to the growth, development and protection of our planet. There should be no boys versus girls.  We just have different skills sets.  We are different.  We look at things differently from boys. This is a good balance for any employer to ensure that all options are being looked at and we become a more inclusive, diverse, developed world!

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.

Girls with Grit: Kate Dickens, Dean Castle Country Park

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

My name is Kate Dickens, I’m 33 years old and I am a Countryside Ranger at Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock. I deliver environmental education to school and community groups and I lead conservation tasks and events within the Country Park and wider district.

Kate Dickens - photo

Where did your career start?

I started my career at Culzean Castle and Country Park in South Ayrshire. I had just left university in England and, so decided to just go for it and apply for jobs in a part of the world that I knew to be beautiful. I had holidayed as a child in Scotland quite a lot. I was employed as a Seasonal Ranger for 6 months and was lucky enough to get the same job again the following year. Then in 2008, I got the job here at Dean Castle.

Did you attend College/University?

I completed a degree in Leisure and Sport studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. I completed my dissertation on social inclusion within the countryside, focusing on ethnic minorities. The course allowed me to take modules in countryside management and undertake work experience as a countryside ranger with Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (OMBC). Whilst studying for my degree, I volunteered with OMBC and was mentored by an enthusiastic and inspiring Countryside Ranger called Jane Downall. She had a ‘can do’ attitude and always sought to teach me about the countryside.

Is there equality in this industry?

I believe so.  The park manager is female, my old boss was female, and my mentor was female. You do come across sexism and not just from men. I’ve had experiences where men expect me to be incapable because they’ve never seen a woman achieve and succeed in this field of work and that’s a shame for them. I’ve also had to speak up against women who have fostered sexist thoughts, assuming that men will do the job because I won’t be able to. I’ve found that the greatest way of combatting sexism is to always have a go at a task.  I might not be as physically strong as some men, but there’s so much more to this job than sheer strength. I understand what my limitations are, but there’s no way they prevent me doing a good job and being successful. Always try to conduct yourself with integrity and you’ll get the respect you deserve.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

The more experience you get, the better your chances are of succeeding. I have to love this job because, at the end of the day, I’m here to enthuse and ignite people’s passion for wildlife and the outdoors. So get out there, look at wildlife, throw yourself into it and always have a go.

I was fortunate to have parents that enjoyed the outdoors. My dad was a keen gardener and birder. I would sit drawing birds out of books and keep a record of what we had seen on trips and holidays. Unfortunately, he died of cancer whilst I was in my first year at university. My dad taught me how to identify my very first tree, a birch. He showed me how to use binoculars to spot birds and wildlife. I didn’t realise it at the time, but he was the one nurturing me for a career in nature. The loss of my dad was traumatic, just like any bereavement can be, but as the months passed it gave me clarity. I came to realise how resilient I could be, how independent I had become and how short life could be. I wanted to spend my time doing something I loved and I love my job.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.




Girls with Grit: Fiona Phillips , UTC Aerospace Systems

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

Hi!  My name is Fiona Phillips and I’m a Senior Structures Engineer at the Prestwick Service Centre, part of UTC Aerospace Systems’ Aerostructures business unit.  This is a nacelle maintenance, repair and overhaul station.   A nacelle is the group of structures which encase the engine on an aeroplane.  These parts play a critical role in the operation of not only the engine, but the aircraft as a whole.

Fiona Philips

My job is to create and approve the structural analysis of repairs to these parts, to help decide if the repaired part still meets design and airworthiness requirements.   It is a really interesting job.  You have to solve problems constantly as the structures are complex and often badly damaged, and it is my job to help decide how to fix them.  Although this sounds difficult, it is very rewarding as it is great to see the components leaving fully repaired and knowing they can safely continue to help carry people all over the world.

I am very lucky that the Prestwick site has such a wide range of capabilities as it means I can work on carbon fibre composites, adhesive bonding and metallic repairs, including those to high-temperature alloys.  Every day is different!

I first started working at UTC (Goodrich at the time) on a summer placement from university.  I spent 3 months here and I loved it.  After university I was keen to return and I have stayed ever since.  Although I have worked in the same place for 11 years now, I have had so many opportunities to travel and learn new things that it hasn’t seemed like a long time at all.

I enjoyed Maths at school and this is what led to me studying Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Glasgow.  This was a tough subject to study. However, once you learn the theory, the practical application of the subject is a lot more interesting.  While working at UTC, I’ve also completed a Masters in Materials Science from the University of Surrey.  I have found engineering is a great gateway into many different subjects.  There is no end to the areas of modern life engineering influences and it offers so many possibilities.

Female engineers are certainly outnumbered currently in the aerospace industry. However, I don’t think this is due to a lack of gender equality.  I think engineering is a challenging job for most people, regardless of gender. . . but that is why it is also so rewarding.  The best way to ensure that you don’t face inequality is to make sure you gain as much knowledge as you can at every opportunity, work hard and never get complacent.

If you listen to colleagues with experience, the mechanics that take on the implementation of what an engineer proposes, and do your best to always ensure the best outcome for a project, this, in my experience, ensures you are treated equally, regardless of your gender.

I recently worked in California for a few months, where there were many more female engineers, so it seems things are definitely changing.  I would urge any girls thinking about a career in engineering not to let thoughts about gender inequality put you off.  It is the most interesting career with so many opportunities and I’m certainly glad I never let being a girl stop me.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.

Girls with Grit: Melanie Blane, White Rabbit Skincare

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’ ,on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

My name is Melanie Blane, Founder and Director of vegan Skincare brand White Rabbit Skincare, based in Kilmarnock. I have recently won the Scottish Young EDGE competition, winning up to £10,000 in grant funding.

Melanie Blane

I started White Rabbit Skincare after being diagnosed with the skin condition psiroasos as a teenager. I wasn’t keen on using steroid creams long term, and thought the only way to guarantee the origins, ingredients and cruelty-free status of products was to manufacture it myself! Other than doing chemistry for two years at secondary school, I am entirely self taught in product manufacture and still learning every day – 3 years on!

Where did your career start?

I left secondary school after 6th year, and went on to go to university for four years. Whilst at university I worked as a Technical Records Officer for an aircraft maintenance firm, then moved to England for around 6 months and worked as an office assistant at a food production company. When I moved back home I got a job as receptionist in a welfare to work organisation. I’ve never really known exactly what I wanted to do for a career, but working in different industries gave me great insight, as well as experience.

Did you attend College/University?

Yes – I am a graduate of The University of Strathclyde, and proudly boast a 2:1 Honours Degree in History!

Although I am not doing anything directly relatedly to my degree at present, my time at university taught me:

  •   It’s not what you expect
  •   You’ll become so independent
  •   It’s much more than about ‘the degree’
  •   It’s what you make of it
  • You’ll lose friends, and gain friends – and hobbies!
  • How to be resilient – you can juggle everything and anything!

Is there equality in this industry?

It’s no secret that the beauty industry is geared towards female consumers. However despite that fact, most high-level decision makers in the industry are men. Though the beauty industry fares better in comparison to other sectors such as health, banking, technology and energy, beauty brands still have an average of just 29 percent female leadership across boards and executive teams. I want to help change that, and by directing my own company I aim to inspire other young women to take charge of their own careers.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

 There are endless amounts of ‘tips’ I could share, but if I had to pick:

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The best things happen where you are pushed right out your comfort zone!
  • Every new person you meet is a potential route to opportunity. Build bridges in both your personal and professional life and you never know where they’ll lead!
  • Similarly, never be afraid to ask for advice. Create a good network of mentors or acquaintances you can call upon.
  • ‘Thoughts become things’ – believe you are strong, inspiring, open to new opportunities. You can do so much more with a positive attitude than a negative one.
  • There will never be ‘a right time.’ Take chances, live in the moment, and don’t let feelings like ‘I’m not ready’ get in the way.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.


Girls with Grit: Jackie Galbraith, Ayrshire College

My life before computers

I never planned to have a career in technology.

At school, I had a wide range of interests and achieved highers in Maths, Chemistry, English, German, Geography, History and Modern Studies. While I went through phases of liking particular subjects, my favourite subject throughout secondary school was English. A career in computing was nowhere on my radar – there weren’t even any computers in schools at the time!

When I was in my final year at school, I bowed to pressure from teachers to apply for university. At the time I was interested in African politics, prompted by the brutal murder of Steve Biko by the apartheid regime in South Africa, so I thought ‘if I’m going to be forced to go to university I’ll study something I’m really interested in and go as far away from home as possible!”

Big mistake!

I went to the University of Sussex to study African and Asian studies but, as I had neither the confidence nor the desire to survive at university and missed home, my stay at Brighton was a short one!

I returned to Scotland and spent the next few years in and out of jobs at a time of economic recession and high youth unemployment. In the mid-1980s, aged 25, I went back to full-time study to do a BSc Computer Information Systems at Glasgow College of Technology.

My husband and I had just had our first child, taken out our first mortgage – just as interest rates began to soar – and we needed to increase our family income. So, my motivations for choosing a computing degree were vocational and financial – it was a growing industry sector and I knew I was likely to get a good job with decent money when I graduated. And I did!

The early signs that I was a techie

Although I didn’t set out to have a career in technology, when I look back to my childhood and early adulthood, the signs were there – but neither I nor my parents and teachers spotted them. Seems like I’ve always had an affinity with technology and gadgets – I just never imagined how that could link to a career! Here is my retrospective detective work on how Jackie ended up in tech.

Late 1960s

When I around seven years old I asked for a ‘modern’ electronic till for Christmas. This was cutting edge technology at the time! I had just started to see them in large shops and was fascinated. You can see from the buttons on the till that this was before decimalisation (basing currency on multiples of 10 and 100). On 14 February 1971 when I was eight years old, there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. The next day the pound was made up of 100 new pence!


I got a tape recorder for my tenth birthday and used it to record family sing-songs, the chart countdown every Sunday on the radio (we couldn’t afford to buy singles), and spending hours asking family and friends “What do you think of polo mints?” (a popular TV advert at the time although I’ve yet to meet anyone who remembers this!) 


When I was eleven, I won a prize for General Excellence in Primary 7. The prize was a book token – worth a mighty 15p! – and the book I bought was ‘The Telephone’, a Ladybird book about telecommunications. Two men were responsible for my interest in telephones – the inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, and my dad who was a telephone fitter. In the 1960s and 1970s, my family moved around Scotland as my dad helped setup telephone exchanges from Lanark to Inverness. Communication is a thread that weaves through my career.

Early 1970s

As a young teenager in my third year at secondary school, I asked for a Chemistry Set and microscope for Christmas. I had chosen Chemistry as one of my O-Grades (older readers will remember these, in later years they were superseded by Standard Grades, Intermediates and now Nationals). I became interested in Physics and did a crash O-Grade in fifth year at school. I started the Higher in sixth year – the only girl in a class full of boys. That didn’t bother me, but my teacher was openly hostile to having a girl in his class. I decided that I wasn’t going to subject myself to his taunts and I left the course. Decades later, I’m still annoyed at myself for letting him win!


In the early 1980s, I campaigned against rising rates of youth unemployment.  I had a talent for designing leaflets but it was becoming a chore to type these on a manual typewriter when it was very difficult to judge the space required for text. I bought a Canon Typestar 5 electronic typewriter which revolutionised how I drafted documents. I could now type a line of text, review it on the 15-digit display (yes, you read that correctly) and make any changes before hitting return to print it onto the sheet of paper! I used this brilliant wee machine to type up essays throughout my degree study. It wasn’t until I worked in industry that I had access to the new personal computers (PCs) which had just arrived on the scene.


A couple of years before I started my computing degree I bought my first computer – a Commodore Plus/4! Fairly radical at the time, I was able to programme in Basic. It even had some rudimentary application software built in, for example a word processor and spreadsheet.

Whirlwind tour of my career 

I started my career in manufacturing at Motorola Semiconductors where I did some programming, supported the computer network and trained staff on packages like Harvard Graphics (Microsoft Office hadn’t yet appeared on the scene!) I wasn’t the best programmer, but my boss described me as a ‘great de-bugger’ (at least I think that’s what he said) because I could spot a misplaced punctuation mark a mile away! My forensic approach to grammar and punctuation served me well here and in my future career.

Next, I worked at AVEX Electronics where I was responsible for introducing and installing a computer network across three sites. This is where I really discovered the power of digital networks, and the potential they opened up for individuals within and outwith an organisation to share information and collaborate on projects.

Designing and delivering training courses to support employees through a major systems change sparked an interest in learning and I applied for a lecturing post at the University of Paisley. Here, as well as teaching about computer networks, I became interested in learning with networked technology and I was an early pioneer of developing online courses.

I took this interest forward when I became director of learning at the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, and assistant chief executive at Learning and Teaching Scotland, where I lead departments responsible for educational software development and technology training courses for schools, colleges and universities.

In 2000, I organised one of the first large-scale educational conferences to be broadcast live online across the world, and managed a project team responsible for implementing the National Grid for Learning (the precursor to Glow) to enable schools across Scotland to access educational resources on the Internet.

I became interested in the policy underpinning education and lifelong learning in Scotland, and developed this further when I joined the Scottish Government in 2003. In my ten years in government most of the roles I had related to skills and employment not technology, although I was responsible for e-learning policy for a couple of years.

I took up my current role as vice principal at Ayrshire College in 2013 where I have a wide range of responsibilities which include our management information systems and data analytics.

So, although I’m involved at a different level than when I set out 30 years ago, I’ve kind of come full circle in my career!

Skills for success

The skills that I’ve used most throughout my career are communication, problem solving and managing change. I enjoy innovating and am always looking for better ways of doing things.

Challenges as a woman in a man’s world

I only became aware of gender imbalance in computing when I started my degree, as just around 30% of my classmates were women. Looking back, I can see that the way the course was delivered by some lecturers (male and female) was geared more towards men. Some lecturers made it obvious that they didn’t think computing was for women.

When I started in the manufacturing industry I noticed that there weren’t many women doing the same sort of job as me. In my workplace I just got stuck into my job and I was only ever really uncomfortable when I went to industry conferences, where I was often the lone woman in a room full of men.

These were lonely places to be.

Sadly, in the ICT and digital sector, this hasn’t changed that much over the past three decades. Proportionately, there are fewer women working in computing now than when I started, and I know from speaking to young female programmers that women still experience isolation in many workplaces.

The good news is that there is a lot of determination to change this and, hopefully, in 30 years time the young programmer I mentioned won’t be telling us that it is still a lonely place for women!

Tips for success in a digital career

Stay interested, keep learning and embrace change!

If you don’t, it’s unlikely that you will get the most out of your career in the frighteningly fast-moving field like digital technology. Thirty years after I started my learning and career journey in computing, the technology we use today and how we use it is unrecognisable. For example, if you’re under 30, you probably won’t know what these are: 

Build your networks!

A huge advantage today that I couldn’t even have dreamed of when I started out in my career is the global reach that social media has and how accessible it makes access to experts in your field.

Connect with industry experts on LinkedIn – a great way to keep up-to-date with new developments, seek advice and get yourself noticed for that dream job you’re looking for.

Go to meetups like the ones organised by The Data Lab where you can learn new things in an informal setting over a beer and pizza!

Join professional associations like the British Computer Society and the Institute of Engineering and Technology to connect with people in similar roles.

Seek mentors and support your peers

Engage with local mentoring networks like Ayrshire Connects which links female STEM students in Ayrshire College with each other, with students in other colleges and universities, and with employers.

Many of my mentors over the years were men (as I’ve said, there weren’t that many women in IT) and I learned a lot from them. The nice thing is that I know (because they’ve told me) that they learned a lot from me too!


Girls with Grit:  Dani Horton, Microtech Digital

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’ ,on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.


My name is Danielle Horton is the Senior Graphic Designer for Microtech Digital, a full service Web & Graphic Design Agency that is part of the Microtech Group. Working as part of team of Designers, Developers and Marketing experts – Dani leads the design team and is responsible for creative direction of their clients as well as all companies under the Microtech Group.

DH 2

Where did your career start?

My intention after graduating was to get a job within a graphic design agency, however during my graduate exhibition I was approached by the Editor and Co-Creator of the comic book ‘Who on Earth was Thaddeus Mist’ who offered me my first paid freelance contract. For the next year I kept this momentum by working as a Freelance Designer for Cumbria County Council as well as establishing my own clients, some of whom I still work with today.

After moving back to Scotland, I set myself the goal of becoming a Senior Designer of an agency within five years. Out of 100 candidates applying, I was taken on as a Junior Graphic Designer at Paligap Brands. Thrown in at the deep end, I learned on the job how to design websites and within four months was managing my own clients.

Two years later Microtech offered the Paligap team an opportunity to merge their clients and become the newly formed Microtech Digital – letting me achieve my goal three years early.

Did you attend College/University?

My passion for art, design and communications has always been very focused. Knowing that this is what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go, I only applied for one course and left school at 17 to study for my BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at the University of Cumbria, Carlisle. To achieve the points I needed to apply, I took on Higher Drama and Portfolio Prep night classes at Ayrshire College as well as sitting some of my qualifications a year early.

Is there equality in this industry?

One of my degree modules was based upon social aspects of design, and we had several talks on feminism and its role in the graphic design community. The web and design industry is still male dominated (even more so for developers) but this is something I chose to disregard quite early on. I have never understood how or why my skillset, work ethic or the ability to collaborate with others would ever be defined by my gender.

When applying for a design job you are judged on your portfolio of work before anything else.  This is a fair, genderless process and a main motivator for my career path.

Although it is a fact that there are fewer women in my industry, my attitude towards this will never change. I set the goals I want to achieve in my life and it is only myself who can achieve them.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Always be motivated and proactive in your industry – actions speak louder than gender. When applying for design jobs be sure to always put your work first. Knowing what you want to do is easy, standing out from the crowd of 100+ applicants takes the right work ethic.

You will learn more in those first few months on the job than you have your entire education. Make sure you aren’t getting paid in ‘exposure’ and set clear contract terms for yourself and your client to agree upon before starting work. It is easy to get tempted by developing work for your portfolio but you also need to value your time, education and expertise. However, it is just as important to do work ‘just for you’. Getting bogged down in the corporate world of design can be tedious and unimaginative. Negative feedback, nightmare clients and unrealistic deadlines come with the job, so a thick skin is key.

I was once told to find the smartest person in the room and befriend them. Finding a mentor or surrounding yourself with people within the same industry will only make you better. Competition, stress and conflicting opinions can be a stimulating influence to improve yourself and your work. Be patient, open minded and take advantage of every opportunity presented to you!

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how to be involved here.

Girls with Grit: Megan Coghill, Thales

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

Hello! My name is Megan, I’m an optical design engineer at Thales in Glasgow where I invent lenses like the ones in professional cameras, except the lenses I design are used in really extreme environments. I had never done anything like this before starting at Thales, but I’ve been lucky to work with really experienced and generous people over the past few years and I’ve learned so much on the job. Never be afraid to apply for a job you don’t yet know how to do – the secret is that everybody starts out as a beginner!


Where did your career start?

I could never decide between art and science when I was in school, so I decided to study Chemical Physics at university in Glasgow but kept working on my artistic side too, so I worked as a photographer for weddings and events and designed posters in my free time. As it turns out, engineering is perfect for people like me! This career really allows me to express my creative side, while still feeling challenged with complex technical questions. I love it!

I took a bit of a detour between finishing university and starting my job as an engineer.  First, I moved to Germany to begin a PhD but realised very quickly that my heart wasn’t in it. So I left after only 3 days! It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I’m still certain that it was the right choice. I returned to Glasgow where I started working as an assistant buyer, sourcing consumables for lots of different biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. One day I could be hunting down very specific and complicated glassware, another day I could be comparing different types of rabbits’ eyes for a customer.  It was a fascinating job! After a year in procurement I was unexpectedly yearning to be back in the world of physics and so I applied for the optical design job at Thales.

I was also really fortunate to try out a lot of different scientific jobs before graduating.  I spent a fantastic summer at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso – the northernmost town on the British mainland where I grew up – where I was researching how pharmaceuticals make their way into the environment. Then I spent a summer at the Institute for Gravitational Research in Glasgow, building a miniature version of the mind-bogglingly precise instruments that we use to detect gravitational waves (which has to be one of the most important scientific discoveries of our lifetime). After that, I spent a summer in the Inorganic Materials research group at Glasgow University synthesising nanoparticles using normal, kitchen microwaves – it was all a bit too liable to explode for my liking!

Finally, I spent a year during my degree working at a physics institute called AMOLF in Amsterdam where I researched how water moves about inside fuel cells (the ‘green’ batteries used in electric cars). It was at AMOLF that I really fell in love with physics and optics in particular – I built a new laser system while I was there, and it was a great feeling when we got it working for the first time.

I’ve been lucky to travel a lot with my work.  While at AMOLF, I visited Switzerland for a conference, and Finland for a summer school. I still love to travel and in my current role I’ve been all over the UK, France and I’m going to New York this month. If you like to see the world, a career in science or engineering could really suit you! I met my friend Noah from Wisconsin when we worked together as scientists in Glasgow. Two years later, we met again when I visited the USA for a workshop and we spent a week roadtripping and visiting family and friends. We met again two years after that, when he was visiting Japan for a conference and I was visiting my brother there at the same time – this time we spent a week exploring Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo! Science and engineering are truly international and can bring you so many opportunities you might not expect.

Did you attend College/University?

I completed a five year Master in Science at the University of Glasgow in Chemical Physics and really enjoyed it. My lecturers were some of the most dedicated and patient people I’ve ever met.

Is there equality in this industry?

In terms of numbers, absolutely not – less than 10% of engineers in the UK are female. In terms of my experience, yes – I’ve never felt at a disadvantage by being a woman, but it has to be said I’m in the very early stages of my career.

For many years, I wasn’t sure whether I could be myself and be a scientist or an engineer. I thought I might need to be less feminine to ‘blend in’, or more feminine to avoid making people feel threatened!  I’m happy to say I was wrong – I can be myself, my whole self, and still be a capable and credible engineer. It’s because of the pioneering women and men who came before that I’m able to say this.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, they’re definitely not a stupid as you think they are and in fact, asking questions has the effect of making the person you’re asking feel flattered and think you’re even smarter!

For really practical and effective advice on CVs, cover letters and interviews, check out The Muse – everything you need is right there.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.



Connecting Girls and Women in STEM

Last year, Ayrshire College launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across our campuses and courses to connect with each other, with students in other colleges and universities, and with women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter.

ayrshire connectsWhen girls and women start on science, technology, engineering and construction courses at Ayrshire College, we want to make sure they get the best possible experience that enables them to move into  a career in the sector of their choice.  

We want our students to have the chance to build networks with students in other colleges and universities. Read how Ayrshire Connects is helping students make these connections in this article about a visit to Glasgow University

At the Ayrshire Connects launch event last year, 150 girls and women had the privilege of hearing leading NASA figure, Sarah Murray, talk about her career. We are delighted that participants at our second annual Ayrshire Connects conference – Girls with Grit – will once again have the chance to hear from Sarah, this time on strategies for succeeding in your studies and career. If you’d like to attend, the details are in the graphic below. 

If you can’t make this event, watch Sarah’s talk from last year – it’s a long film but we promise that you will be glad you watched it!

Meet Ayrshire College students building careers in STEM

Find out what our female students say by clicking on the InSTEMagrams below.

Want to get involved in Ayrshire Connects?

As well as the national event and visits to other colleges and universities, Ayrshire Connects will introduce you to industry mentors, organise visits to employers and much more – your ideas and requests are what matters. 

Details on how to get in touch are available at

Becoming a successful woman in STEM

Janice Steel is a successful STEM lecturer at Ayrshire College. Her background is in joinery and quantity surveying and this month she has just been promoted to capital projects manager for Ayrshire College, managing a budget of £1.6m. Success seems to follow her wherever she goes and this makes her the perfect interviewee for our latest blog series — How to be successful – read her story and find out how hard work and perseverance has paid off.

Where did your career start?Janice Steel

I left Auchinleck Academy after 5th year and started as an apprentice joiner with Cumnock and Doon Valley. I come from a farming background. At this time daughters of farmers typically had a job in an office or a bank. My mum and dad wanted me to go down this route and encouraged me to take Secretarial Studies at school. I am ashamed to say I deliberately failed my course so that I was offered an alternative course – the one I really wanted to do – tech drawing. I was strong at craft and design, maths and anything practical was my kind of thing. Eventually my mum and dad realised this, and let me choose my own path. Lesson number one for being successful is knowing your own strengths and going along with your gut feeling. Just be yourself.

So, you started your career at college?

As an apprentice joiner, I attended college during my four-year apprenticeship. I came top in my year and won the “Ben Francis Award for Advanced Craft”. I was really proud of my achievement. It showed me that whatever you do – you should work hard and do it well – be the best you can be. Following this, I did two years day release studying building technology and two years day release to get my HNC Construction Management. This gave me the qualifications I needed to go to university.

What did you do at University?

I packed in my job and went to Glasgow Caledonian University as a full-time student studying building surveying. I got a nine month placement with Clark Contracts in Paisley doing quantity surveying. I loved this so changed my course to study quantity surveying and completed my degree year. Clark Contracts took me on and I completed my honours year on a part-time basis. I had found what I was good at and I loved being in control of the works. The quantity surveyor is basically the banker and tries to keep the project on time and on budget by reporting the costs monthly. I worked on really interesting projects such as the University of Glasgow student flats, Govan Town Hall and Rutherglen Health Centre.

I then worked for Hall and Tawse on the BT buildings in Gorgie Street in Edinburgh, refurbishing and fitting out. I moved on to McConnell Roofing and Decorating, which was closer to home as I had now married a Kilmarnock farmer. However my job took me all over the UK. Contracts included re-roofing to buildings within the HM Prison sector.

How did you get into teaching?

It was just by chance – I met one of my previous lecturers and he said they were looking for a new lecturer and I would be a good candidate. I got the job and worked 3 days as a lecturer and 2 days as a self-employed surveyor. I’ve taught on joinery courses, built environment, construction management and quantity surveying.

What do you love about teaching?

I love seeing the students get a kick out of learning. I loved it here as a student and I learned loads through brilliant teaching from the lecturers – college also helped me get into university. School is not for everyone, it wasn’t until I came to college that I found my feet which started me on my chosen career. It’s been great for me to come back and help the current students understand what is needed to become successful as a construction professional. Hopefully I show the same passion that I experienced from the lecturing staff whilst being a student here.

How do you bring it alive to the students?

I contextualise their learning. There is no point in just sitting in a classroom – you need to take them out onto sites and show them what you mean. I have made so many contacts in this industry and through LinkedIn, I contact the people I know and arrange visits and placements for my students.

I have built the placements into the courses. It’s a reality check for them – they have got to start at 8am. It’s a real eye-opener for many of them but 95% of them loved it and can understand the relevance of what I am teaching. The placements help them keep their heads down and focus on where they want to be. Another success tip – visualise where you want to be and set yourself goals to get there. Networking is one of the ways to get on in this industry. So if you can make a good impression on your placement, people will remember you when they have a job available.

The site visits are also good for my own CPD. It makes me more enthusiastic as I just love learning new things. It makes my teaching fresh – the construction industry is constantly changing so you need be up to date and well informed as you are responsible for preparing the future workforce.

In class, my presentations and discussions are all related to my experience. The contract was a success/disaster because… you’ve got to relate the theory to actual examples to make it real.

What are the career prospects like for your students?

There is such a shortage of good construction managers and quantity surveyors from trainees to experienced professionals. You only have to look on any job site and you’ll see the numerous positions available within construction and not only in this country, for those that are willing to travel, there are fantastic opportunities across the world. It’s a great career – you are in and out of the office, working on different projects with completely different challenges and teams each time. No job is the same – it’s very exciting and rewarding.

Is there equality in this industry?

When I started out as an apprentice joiner, I was in the minority – there were not many women in this role. I was passionate about my trade and I persevered to reach my long-term goals. Now there are more women interested in working in the construction industry and there are plenty of good opportunities. A good employer won’t put up with any discrimination and I would be surprised to hear comments of women getting treated differently in the workplace. Gender should not be an issue in any industry. I’ve only worked beside one woman in the 25 years I’ve been in the industry. The majority have been men – who have been very supportive and encouraging and I’ve had some fantastic mentors over the years, who’ve all been men. These comments I’ve heard such as women aren’t strong enough, they can’t hack the pace, they are too sensitive – all nonsense! Women can take the aggression out of a situation. We are firm, fair and very conscientious workers and can bring a different perspective to the table. Our reputation is very important to us and we want to be respected for the excellent job we do as does every construction professional whether male or female. Yes there are times when you need to stand up for yourself and certainly a strong personality helps. You need to have resilience because not everything is going to go right. You need to learn how to bounce back – you must have the enthusiasm, drive and motivation to get things done no matter what obstacles get in your way.

We have improved the intake of women greatly over the years which is fantastic but we need to do more and it all starts with the careers guidance at school level. We need to work together as industry and education to highlight the career choices within the construction sector. It’s also important to highlight the amount of successful women who are at the top within the industry. You only have to look at our very own Vice Principal of Estates and Facilities – Donna Vallance. She is a prime example of opportunities open to women who have experience, ability and desire to reach executive positions within our industry – the possibility of such positions were far out of reach for women not that long ago, but today we have so many more opportunities for us to aim for, should we so desire.

You have had a really successful year – what’s your secret?

It’s about working with a great team and networking. My colleague Barry Kerr and I have worked hard to find site visits that will help with the learning. Building up relationships with employers means that we can get some really great learning experiences for our students – we’ve worked hard on this through LinkedIn. The employers win as well as they are involved in the learning experience and have access to our talented students. The results this year have really improved and this is largely down to the students understanding the importance of the work experience/visits therefore, they’re feeling more motivated and enjoying their course. It’s important to celebrate their success so I make sure I post regular updates on social media thanking the employers for their involvement and work placement opportunities and the acknowledging the benefits of our partnership.

I’ve loved my time as a lecturer over the past 13 years both within the Carpentry & Joinery and Construction Technology sections. I’ve had the privilege to teach loads of inspiring and talented students over the years who are now construction professionals.

Every time I go on a site visit I want to stay, I miss the buzz of the operational side of construction and I feel I have some unfinished business within this area. I’ve been really fortunate to be given an opportunity to become the Capital Projects Manager within the Estates Department within Ayrshire College. As a construction professional this is a fantastic job and one which I’m looking forward to – I have a challenging summer programme of works, but I love a challenge!



Inspired by Janice? Come and meet more inspiring women in STEM at our Girls with Grit event on Monday 19 June 5pm – 7.30pm on our Kilmarnock Campus. Tickets are free but you need to book your place here.

View our construction courses on our website here.

GWG Social media_FB.png

Man in the Mirror

Our “Man in the Mirror” campaign addresses gender imbalance and stereotyping in the hairdressing industry by highlighting the positive learning experiences of some of our students.

In the second of our blog series, we interviewed Martin McCluskey, HNC Hairdressing student from Kilwinning. We wanted to find out a bit more about what it’s like starting out in the hairdressing industry, and an insight into Martin’s career so far.


Here’s what he had to say:

“I’ve been doing the HNC Hairdressing course part time over 2 years.  It’s really suited me as I also work part-time at the hairdressing salon on the Ayr Campus of Ayrshire College as a Salon Assistant.

I’ve been doing hairdressing for 12 years and I managed to get that role 3 years ago.  It’s been a good opportunity to work and get a qualification at the same time.

I left school when I was 16 and went straight to college to study art and design and graduated with an advanced diploma in digital art.  I knew I wanted to do hairdressing, but wanted to finish what I had started before changing career.

I then worked as an apprentice in a salon in Glasgow where all the training I received was in-house.  My friend opened a salon in Ayr, so I started working there.  The industry was changing a bit at that time, and it was beneficial to have a hairdressing qualification, not just the in-house training I’d already had.  So, I decided it was a good time to go back to college to get L2 and L3 Hairdressing, before I applied for the salon assistant job at the College.

Hairdressing is a creative career so it suits me perfectly.  I like being hands on.  The role that I have just now is ideal because I’m in with the hair and beauty department so I get the chance to work with creative people every day.

I get to help out with the classes as well, whether that is mixing up colour or helping with the appointments.  I’m a really people–oriented person, and get to know the regular clients on a first-name basis.

I get the chance to work at the Kilwinning campus sometimes too, which is good as I’ve got to know the salon staff there as well.  We’ve got a good relationship across campuses.

It’s been great doing the course over two years.  I think I’ve enjoyed this way of learning more as I get to work and earn as I learn  –  it’s not as stressful so I get to enjoy every individual class that I study.  It’s the best of both worlds.

I absolutely love the job that I’m doing just now.  I’ll continue to work in the role that I’m in at the moment to the best of my ability.  But, my hope for the future is to use the experience and qualifications I’ve gained to move higher up the career ladder.  I’ve also wanted to get more involved in make-up artistry, so might consider doing a bit of training for that too.

I always like to keep my skills up to date and like working in the college environment.  In years to come I might become a lecturer.  I’d like to get a bit more salon experience first though.  As a salon assistant I work with so many talented hairdressers.  I’m inspired every day by their work and the teaching that goes on within the classrooms so I’m still gaining experience all the time.

The best thing about working in hairdressing is the creativity. It’s amazing how much a new haircut or colour can change someone, by making them feel happy and confident.  I love seeing the difference in a customer from when they arrive at the salon to leaving, it’s the most rewarding part of my job to know I have made someone feel better about themselves.  They leave with a spring in their step.  To see that gives me a buzz.”

Courses are open for August 2017 applications:

  • HNC Hairdressing, click here.
  • NC Hairdressing Level 5, click here.
  • NC Hairdressing Level 6, click here.
  • SVQ Barbering @ SCQF Level 5, click here.