Candice Majewski, PhD

She/her/hers

Find her on Twitter: @CandiceMajewski

Undergrad: Mechanical Engineering, Loughborough University (UK) 2000

Graduate school: PhD in Mechanical Engineering, Loughborough University 2007

Current job title: Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, The University of Sheffield, UK

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

I don’t really remember actively thinking I was interested in Science!  Looking back there were things I enjoyed as a child – playing with chemistry sets where you’d mix one thing with another and see what happened or trying (and failing!) to build a radio from a kit, but I didn’t really put two and two together to make ‘Science’.  At school I was much happier with subjects that had a right or wrong answer, which in many ways naturally led me down a more science-focussed path without it ever being a conscious decision. I’m now in Engineering, but this wasn’t really something I really knew about at school – that’s partly why I’m keen to talk about it as a career option for other people coming through school now.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

Early on there are two people that really stand out.  Dr Gray, our physics teacher, definitely captured my interest in how and why things work the way they do – he was super excited by everything, which made it difficult not to be at least a bit excited too!  The other is Mr Smith, a retired teacher who helped out with careers advice at our school. I was considering taking either maths and physics at University, and he was the one who suggested that Engineering was something to consider.  His grand-daughter was just starting an engineering degree, and he was really keen to see more women going down this sort of route. When I look back on it now I always think of him as quite a pioneer of Women in Engineering, even if he didn’t realise it at the time.  

More recently I’ve found Twitter to be a great source of inspiration.  There are so many scientists to follow in all different areas, many of whom are really keen to share their knowledge and passion with us all.  I’ve also been lucky enough to become involved with the TIGERS (@TigerInSTEMM), which is a group of people with a passion for improving equality and diversity with science and engineering – I’ve been really inspired by the seemingly tireless efforts of many people within the group to really make a change for the better in this area.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

To be honest, there are probably too many to mention here!  I think it’s natural to have doubts about what you’re doing, and as long as you don’t let the doubts take over, they can actually help you improve.  For me it’s sometimes the big things; my first day as an academic was exciting and terrifying in equal parts as I wondered what I should be doing and whether I’d be capable of doing it, and I still get nervous each time I give my first lecture of the year.  Other times it’s as simple as ‘did I handle that conversation as well as I could have?’ or ‘could I have done better in this morning’s presentation?’. 

One thing that really helps with that is that my husband will be really honest with me about things and helps keep me grounded.  If I ask him for constructive feedback on a talk I just gave, he’ll tell me the things I did well and at the same time give me pointers on how I could do better next time.  He’s also great at not letting me get too upset when things don’t go well, either by reminding me of all the *good* things I’ve done, or by pointing out when I’m over-reacting!  Whether it’s a friend, partner, family member or whoever, it’s always worth finding one or more people you can trust to do this, as it can really help you keep those doubts in perspective.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

Much of my career has been a surprise, not least to me!  During my time at University I had a graduate engineering job lined up at a large automotive company, and my plan was really just to go there and see how things progressed.  Towards the end of the final year of my undergraduate degree we had a two hour lecture on 3D Printing, and that changed everything in an instant. This was the first time I’d been *that* excited by something, and I think I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do as my job.  I took a year to do a Masters in that area, and was then offered a PhD position. That conversation pretty much went along the lines of ‘hey, do you fancy doing a PhD with our group?’ ‘Yea, sure’. Since then I became more focussed and realised I really wanted an academic career in this area, but most things up to that point were largely down to chance!

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

Does it count that my wedding flowers were 3D Printed? My best friend, Guy, designed them, and another friend at work, Wendy, printed them on our Laser Sintering system.  Plastic flowers might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me they were perfect. Oh and they last a lot longer than real flowers into the bargain! Outside of work I enjoy fishing so I always run one or two student projects to design some 3D Printed fishing lures, and I may have printed one or two dinosaurs to go into my collection… I also really enjoy talking to non-academics about engineering, so I try to stay involved in Outreach activities where possible.  We’ve just taken part in a national project where we asked school-children around the country to invent mechanical contraptions to help us break the world record for the most people playing a single piano at the same time. Seeing how creative the children were, and how much they instantly engaged with the project, was really inspiring – the designs included lobsters, a toilet, chicken nuggets, pancakes, and a bunny being fired from a cannon, and you can read all about that at www.88Pianists.com if you’d like to see and hear more!

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

The most important thing is to find something you’re genuinely excited by.  We spend a lot of our lives working, which means we should at least be working at something we enjoy!  Some people find their passion early on, and others (like me) don’t find it until a bit later, but it’s never too late.  For me it’s about trying different things and new experiences until you find one or more things you really love, and also not being afraid to ask people in that area for advice on getting started.  You won’t get a reply from everyone, but there are plenty of people out there who will happily help you on your way if they can – if you don’t ask, you’ll never know!

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