Anna O'Dowd | Vector Photonics

As a child I always gravitated towards everything weird and wonderful in science.

Unfortunately, there were almost no female role models in the public domain for science which I could look up to. Had it not been for the few inspirational women who I happened to meet, I would probably never have ended up in stem. Perhaps the only reason I interacted with any women in stem is due to me attending an engineering specialist all-girls' school. I attended Skipton Girls’ High School, and it was here that my passion was sparked – I won 2 physics awards in my senior years.

This led me to study Physics at Lancaster University, where I finished as one of the top women in my class. After finishing my undergraduate degree I went into software, leading projects implementing and configuring financial software for international companies. Although this was a brilliant experience working in business, I couldn't scratch that science itch that we all have! And that's when I delved into the world of tech in my Nanoscience and Nanotechnology MSc at the University of Glasgow. A course I went on to graduate top of.

Whilst doing my master’s I conducted a research project at a company as part of an industrial exchange. I began working with a company called Vector Photonics on designing a new class of semiconductor lasers. Until this research project, I wasn't aware of the scale of the photonics industry and careers that were available there. After my project I was offered a position as a Design Engineer at Vector.

Vector have developed a novel type of laser which has been described as a game changer. CS magazine described this as the “perfect laser” and the team has won an award from the RAEng for outstanding contribution to a field of engineering. Highlighting the truly revolutionary nature of our work. A recent review paper of the field listed the top ten global contributors to this field, and our team were in the top ten – showing the global impact the team is having.

I have been designing these laser for 6 months now (not including my project). I have learned the intricacies of these new laser and I have built new simulation packages to help design these lasers. This has allowed us to overcome some significant technical and design challenges and has moved us close to commercialising this technology. I am, for the most part, leading the design of this novel structure, making me one of the world's leading industrial design engineers working on PCSELs!

Seeing as this is a new laser, a new field, and a new commercial prospect, I am one of the first women in this sector. This is a great opportunity for me to influence the sector as it grows. I dream of being influential in this new field and driving from the front to a more inclusive sector that is within a very male dominated industry.

Being the only woman in the engineering team has allowed me to find my voice in a male dominated industry, whilst continuing to support more junior members in their own personal development. It is through chance and good luck that I have ended up in the career that I have. If it was not for the people I met, things would have turned out very differently. I will use this award to be the role model for women across the country and show girls that their success should not be limited by their imagination!