Claire Canning graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology. She is currently undertaking a three year industrial placement from EDF Energy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your company

I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and then went on to do a Masters in Conservation and Biodiversity, where I developed a particular interest in marine conservation and the effects of climate change on global biodiversity.

I have always had an interest in offshore renewable energy technologies and how they interact with the marine environment, so this coupled with my Masters experience paved the way for me to embark on a three year research project with EDF Energy, working as a renewable energy research engineer.

Offshore wind research is exciting because the industry is still relatively new and everything I’m doing is supporting its future development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had a love of marine mammals from a young age, and taking biology and chemistry at school allowed me to pursue that passion at university. I’ve been able to combine my childhood interest in marine biology with research into offshore marine renewable energies and how they interact with the environment. The development of offshore marine technology is so interesting, and with cleaner and greener energy sources becoming so important, it’s very exciting to be part of.

Pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) can open the door to such a diverse range of careers and working environments and I never let anything stop me from pursuing those subjects myself. My advice to young girls today would be to create their own opportunities and not let the fact there may be more boys taking a subject hold them back if they have a passion for something.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

I’ve been very lucky with my career path to date and haven’t come across too many roadblocks. I have received a tremendous amount of support from EDF Energy and my university to help me success, and both have helped to build my confidence. As with my experience at school, I would say that there currently aren’t enough women working in my field – sometimes I’m the only woman in the room. But I’m passionate about what I do and so it’s not something that bothers me day to day. I can see it would be something that could put young girls off pursuing STEM subjects at school and careers in later life.

Currently only one in five people working in STEM is a woman, so I think it’s really important that women who are currently working in STEM industries do what they can to encourage young girls not to close the door on the amazing careers they could have in the future.

I’m currently a role model for EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious programme which puts a spotlight on the under-representation of women in STEM related careers. As part of the programme we have created a virtual reality video which I feature in alongside a structural engineer and a coder, showing young girls some of the most in-demand careers that will be available to them when they start working. I love that I’m able to show how exciting my job is in a really engaging way, and hope it will be inspirational to young girls currently at school.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

I mainly focus on research for my PHD, studying the effects of corrosion and marine growth on offshore wind turbines. I am always challenged to think about how the design and construction of offshore structures are affected by corrosion and marine growth and it’s my job to come up with possible solutions.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

 A piece of advice that was given to me was to always be proactive. Don’t sit and wait for somebody to offer you what you want – create your own success.

My dad was, and still is, a huge role model for me as he came from a far less privileged background and is probably the hardest working person I know.

He has worked every day of his life to make sure that me and my brothers had all the opportunities he didn’t have. I think it’s him that really inspires me to challenge myself and has encouraged me through every step of my PhD.

I am also very lucky to have two female academic supervisors working with me on my EDF Energy research project who are experts in their fields and I find hugely inspirational. They provide me with the support I need to stay motivated.

What would be your top tips for parents looking to encourage their children to continue to study STEM?
  • Encourage them to keep their options open – by studying STEM there will be endless career options available to them. There are endless opportunities to develop new skills and gain experiences in a wide range of working environments when working in STEM.
  • Encourage them to find the best career for them, not something others think they should do, but something that will suit them and allow them to explore their passions.
  • Support them in making the subject choices they need to pursue their chosen career but don’t tell them what to do.
  • There is no such thing as a “girly” subjects and engineering isn’t “just for boys” so don’t allow them to let silly stereotypes get in the way of something that they want to do.
What does the future hold for you?

The best part of my job is the research, the travelling and the fact that I know that what I’m researching, is going to make a difference in the future. Having the opportunity to travel the world and present my research, working with like-minded people, is something that I have loved since starting at EDF Energy. Working collaboratively towards a future with cleaner energy is something I feel passionately about.