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Highlighting the role of women in science

For International Day of Women and Girls In Science we spoke to Amy Thompson from our innovation and product team about her career in marine science, what inspires her and her message for other girls and young women forging a career in STEM.

Amy Thompson joined Valeport in October 2023 as a Product Manager in the Innovation and Product Development team. She explains, “My role at Valeport means I am involved in all aspects of the product life cycle, collaborating with other companies in the marine industry and using my hands-on marine industry knowledge to bring new products to life.

“I absolutely love my job. Although I’ve only been with Valeport for a few months, it feels great to be part of a team that is developing cutting-edge technology which is in demand across the world.”

Destined for a marine science career

Growing up in North Cornwall meant Amy had a love for the sea from a very young age. “I always enjoyed being at the beach or on the coast watching the waves, so a career in the marine sector had appealed to me for a long time.” It wasn’t all sunshine and sand though. “Growing up in Cornwall is not always as great as it sounds. The school I attended wasn’t very well funded, and the weather was terrible more often than not!”

At school Amy enjoyed science. “I studied chemistry, geography and biology A-level, but I wish I had taken maths or physics as well. One piece of advice I’d give any young person thinking about a marine science career is that studying maths and physics at A-level will help make any specialist courses you take further down the line much easier to understand. The A-Level content may be ‘boring’ but it can open so many possibilities, from marine science to engineering to aeronautics and everything in between.”

University and starting out

Initially Amy thought she’d like to study Marine Biology at university; however, a teacher inspired her to make a different choice. “My A-level geography teacher taught us about the role that oceans play in regulating global temperatures and climate change, and that got me hooked!” Amy went on to study Oceanography at the University of Southampton.

Going to university is a big financial commitment, and like many other students Amy had to work alongside studying for her degree, so that she could pay for rent and food. “Working and studying possibly meant I didn’t perform as well academically as I might have done, but I learnt a lot about the wider world as a result, which has stood me in good stead in my career.”

Amy ran a pub for a year after her graduation, to fund a six month trip to South East Asia and Australia. “I really enjoyed having that time to travel, but getting a job in marine science was my priority when I got home.”

Amy’s first marine science job was working for a company specialising in marine data. “My first job involved installing and maintaining metocean (meteorological/oceanographic) sensors for various marine stakeholders, including ports and harbours.” Amy went on to manage customer support for these systems. “Over 90 per cent of the world’s freight is moved by sea, so these systems are crucial to global trade,” she explains.

Amy is keen to emphasise that a university degree is not essential for a career in marine science. “A-levels and university don’t have to be the only route into this sector. Plenty of companies within the marine science industry (including Valeport) offer apprenticeship programmes, which allow you to earn whilst learning about a rapidly evolving sector.”

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a United Nations initiative, which is now in its 9th year. It is a reminder of the vital role that women and girls play in science and technology and the need to strive for greater gender equality in many male-dominated STEM roles.

The UN reports that women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and infomatics. Although STEM organisations are vital for national economies, most countries around the world have not achieved gender equality in STEM.

Amy fully supports the initiative: “There has been some progress, which is great to see, but there is still a big gender imbalance in STEM roles. It is important that this is highlighted by the UN on the international stage.

“The marine science industry is still quite male dominated, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Amy. “There are so many changes happening at the moment which can make it much easier for women to have a lot of success in this industry, including autonomous (uncrewed) vessels being used for offshore work.”

Role models

When it comes to addressing the gender imbalance in science, role models and mentors are important. For Amy, Claire Cardy, Chief Commercial Officer of Nortek has been a role model.

“Claire is a champion for young women entering the marine science sector. She has been incredibly supportive to me, particularly at the start of my career. She elected me on to the Society of Marine Industries Marine Science and Technology Group council to help address the gender imbalance there. Having her support and knowing how far she has progressed in her career gives me a lot of confidence and inspiration for the future.”

Inspiring the next generation

Valeport plays an active role in its local community in Totnes, attending careers fairs and hosting events with local schools and colleges. “I love the fact that at Valeport we are encouraged to share our stories and get young people interested in a career in our sector. I’m looking forward to encouraging other girls and young women to consider a marine science career.”