Inspirational Woman: Claire Canning | Renewable energy research engineer taking a three year industrial placement at EDF Energy


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.


Inspirational Woman I Bethany Thomas, Reactor Chemistry Engineer at EDF Energy

Bethany Thomas, aged 23, is a reactor chemistry engineer at EDF Energy. She is a currently a role model in the energy company’s #PrettyCurious campaign.

Tell us about your career history

From a young age, I have always had an interest in how things work; wanting to take objects apart and see what they did.Beth Thomas 3

I first became interested in the energy industry after carrying out a week’s work experience at EDF Energy’s Heysham 2 Nuclear Power Station at the age of 15. I remember being taken on a tour of the plant, seeing the turbines and thinking “gosh this is so cool!”

I studied Physics, Chemistry and IT at A-Level and Maths at AS Level. I then went on to study Chemistry at Manchester University.

At the end of the second year of my degree, I carried out a summer placement with EDF Energy at Heysham 2 Nuclear Power Station. It was then that I was told about an opening for a Chemistry Apprentice. I secured the position and the company sponsored me while I completed the final year of my degree part-time.

A typical day for me will involve monitoring the performance of the plant, such as the reactor chemistry of the coolant gas and its associated water cooled systems. If there are any problems, I will carry out troubleshooting and work with Operations to return the plant to normal operation. There are no two days are the same and I really enjoy experiencing new challenges to solve.

What is your advice for women who want to pursue STEM careers?

I visited my old secondary school a few months ago, to talk about my career. I was approached by a female student who said that she didn’t know whether to continue her studies in science or in the arts, as she was concerned that science may be ‘too difficult.’

I advised her that science is definitely not out of anyone’s grasp. It’s amazing how much you can do when you get to grips with things. I never thought I’d be in the position I am now and I’m amazed with the things I’ve achieved.

I am keen to progress in my career and would like to go into station management.

Inspirational Woman I Amy Edmundson, Electrical Maintenance Technician at Hinkley Point B

Amy grew up in Bridgwater and was always aware of Hinkley Point B through her own friends and friends of her parents. Her interest in engineering was first sparked at school when she was asked to design a product in a design and technology class, which required her to use and develop a lot of skills and knowledge needed in engineering, such as creativity and science.

Amy went on to join the EDF Energy apprenticeship scheme in 2011, which she felt was a brilliant opportunity to work in a unique and interesting industry – that of nuclear power. She spent the first two years of her apprenticeship at HMS Sultan, a navy base in Portsmouth, which proved to be a great training base for learning a trade, as well as an opportunity to meet new people.

She recently qualified as a maintenance technician. A power station uses lots of electrical equipment and her role involves maintaining and repairing electrical equipment, such as batteries, motors and circuit breakers. Amy is now doing a Higher National Certificate in Electrical, Electronic and Control Principals – her ambition being to develop her skills further and open up other career routes within operations and engineering. Amy is a role model for the EDF Energy #PrettyCurious campaign.

 What’s your career and education history?

I grew up in Bridgwater and was always aware of Hinkley Point B through friends and friends of my parents.

King Alfreds School, where I studied GCSE’s including Science, Design Technology and Maths. I then went to Bridgwater College for 1 Year where I studied AS-Levels in Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Psychology. I didn’t have much experience in the engineering industry before I joined the apprenticeship scheme in 2011, but my interest was sparked at school. We were asked to design a product in a design and technology class, which employed a lot of techniques that you would apply to engineering such as creativity and science.

I felt that the apprenticeship was not only a brilliant opportunity for me to gain the experience I wanted, but to also allow me to work in such a rare, individual and interesting industry of ‘nuclear power’. It also leads into such a brilliant career path for me, with working on a nuclear power station.Amy Edmundson 4

Tell us about HMS Sultan

I spent my first two years of the apprenticeship carrying out my training at HMS Sultan. During these two years I gained all the basic knowledge and skills which I required to build on and hopefully to become a successful maintenance technician at Hinkley Point B, and maybe C in the future. HMS sultan is a navy base in Portsmouth, and is a great chance to spend time away from home, whilst learning a trade, and meeting new people from across the country!

What are your thoughts on your role?

I recently qualified from my apprenticeship as an Electrical technician. A power station uses lots of electrical equipment and my role involves maintaining and repairing electrical equipment – for example, batteries, motors, circuit breakers.

There are so many opportunities for development within the company. I recently qualified as a maintenance technician after a four year apprenticeship with EDF Energy and am now doing a Higher National Certificate in Electrical, Electronic and Control Principals. My ambition is to join the technical leg of the technician level, as well as having the opportunity to go into a job with operations, engineering, or many other roles. This ability to develop your skills is hugely supported by the company.

As a whole, EDF Energy is a brilliant company to work for, and I am proud to be an employee. I have the opportunity to be involved in such a unique industry, as well as have a great and secure job.

What is your advice for women who want to pursue STEM careers?

Boys and girls all start education at the same level and all have the ability to do well in science. It’s a shame that so many teenage girls don’t think they’re clever enough and think they’re too creative to work in a science-based job. There are so many creative jobs you can do with a science qualification, in many different industries. I hope the #PrettyCurious campaign will encourage more girls and young women to explore the opportunities open to them. Being a woman in the industry can be seen to be difficult, but I can happily say women are not treated differently and it would be great to see more women join our teams.

Don’t ever think that you’re not good enough, women make just as good engineers and scientists as men.

EDF criticised for "sexist" #PrettyCurious campaign to encourage girls into Stem careers

EDF’s attempt to join the drive in encouraging more girls into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers has been criticised for being sexist.

The #PrettyCurious campaign encourages girls of ages 11-16 to consider careers in the traditionally male-dominated fields of Stem, however the online campaign has raised eyebrows for its stereotypical view of female scientists.

In a statement issued by EDF on its website the energy giant said: “It’s not about being ‘pretty’; it’s about being ‘pretty curious’. Using 'pretty' is a play on words. We are using the word in the sense of 'pretty unexpected', 'pretty determined', 'pretty inventive', 'pretty focused' and 'pretty curious'.

“It's been chosen purposefully to challenge the stereotypes around personal appearance that are often applied to girls. We knew the name would attract attention and chose it in order to raise awareness of the campaign, which aims to address the significant under-representation of women in Stem.”

EDF have been criticised for not supporting an existing campaign instead, to which it responded by mentioning that it has partnered with The Times Cheltenham Science Festival for over 10 years and are the founding sponsors of the POWERful Women initiative.

In its statement EDF added: “We also work with over 19,500 schools in the UK (over 60% of UK schools) who are signed up to The Pod, EDF Energy’s award winning educational programme – and in Somerset, our Inspire Programme has connected with over 70,000 school children in 171 local schools to help students understand the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We feel this is a critical issue – and one where we have a right to get involved given the importance of it for our business and for the UK as a whole. But we will also continue to work collaboratively with other groups to address it.”