skip to Main Content

Student InSights: Physics, machine learning and the gender imbalance in engineering

Mia Prince, a Physicist studying at the the University of Nottingham, successfully completed a 3-month internship with ONYX InSight in summer 2019. We caught up with Mia to talk about her experiences, charting a course from her initial love of astronomy, to applying her physics knowledge gained at university to real-world problems in renewable energy. We also talked to Mia about her experience being a young woman in the field of physics and engineering.

–  Congratulations on your starting your Master’s Mia, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and what you study?

Thank you! I’ve just finished my third year of study at the University of Nottingham, studying physics with astronomy. I am just about to start my Master’s degree in physics at Nottingham.

I’m from Blackpool, went to a state comprehensive school, and am from a working-class family. I was actually the first person in my family to go to university.

I chose to study physics with astronomy mainly due to my interest in space and the big, exotic, cosmic events that happen in our universe which are studied in that field. However, as my studies and career have progressed, I have become more and more interested in the real-world application of physics – particularly in renewable energy technologies, as a result of my internship with ONYX.

–  What motivated you to apply for an internship with ONYX InSight as part of your studies?

I was seeking industry work experience at a Nottingham-based company during the summer and had become particularly interested in coding because of a data focused project I did during my third year of my undergrad studies.

I was curious about ONYX InSight after meeting engineering manager Evgenia Golysheva at a careers fair. The internship with ONYX was a perfect match for what I wanted, and I felt confident in the subject I would be working in. When I did some further research into the company, I was very excited to learn they operated globally and people from a lot of different backgrounds worked there. The team seemed close-knit and very friendly, so I thought this would be the right environment for me in order to gain real-world experience as an undergraduate. The most exciting part was that not only does the company do data analysis, they have so many people who are actually passionate about data analysis in one place!

–  What did your work at ONYX involve?

I worked in the Engineering team reporting to Evgenia Golysheva, the Head of Engineering. I mainly worked in data analysis, creating models which can predict axle current activity based on a few parameters in SCADA data. The project I worked on involved creating a model which can predict pitch bearings failures in wind turbines.

– What has been the biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge was learning how to use machine learning technology and new Matrix Laboratory (MATLAB)unctions to make my code and analysis more efficient.

This was a big step up from the type of work I do at university, and the project was for an ONYX customer, so there was some pressure to find new solutions and prove my skills in machine learning and engineering. The team was able to help me with the code – now I am a lot more confident in the area of machine learning technology and coding.

– What has been the highlight of your time at ONYX?

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting lots of different people in the company from all over the world.

I was proud to see my model had detected some unusual performance activity in wind turbines that are online in the field; this made me feel satisfied that I had achieved something significant and impactful during my internship.

I was grateful also to learn about machine learning in more depth because I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do this in my undergraduate degree.

– What is most appealing about working in renewable energy?

Renewable energy is an exciting industry in a significant time of growth. Now more than ever, we need to improve the way in which we as consumers source energy and, as businesses, provide energy to the world.

The wind industry especially is the fastest growing renewable energy source worldwide. Working in this area as a physicist offers me a lot of opportunities for the future to play my part in solving the carbon crisis.

– What has your experience been like as a woman in physics, beginning her career in the engineering industry?

I wouldn’t call myself a “woman in physics”. I’m a physicist first; I feel this reduces some of the boundaries in terms of my professional growth in this area. Women should certainly not be put off by male dominated spaces, of which physics is one. We should be removing the narrative of “women in engineering” and all be known as engineers first; I feel like this is an easy change that can make STEM subjects more gender inclusive.

I think at first being in male dominated lectures can, to an extent, make you feel like you don’t belong, but I have gained more confidence as my degree has progressed.

I’ve never actually experienced any negativity from the industry about my gender, not at university, in my internship or from the industry more widely. However, I was surprised to be selected for the ONYX InSight internship because I was up against two men for the placement. Of course, I was delighted to be selected.

– Who are your female role models in engineering?

I had a female physics teacher in Sixth Form, which, in my mind, helped to normalize the idea of women in physics from an early stage. What’s more, many of my university lecturers were women, which just reinforced the idea that that women can be very successful in this field.

During my internship with ONYX I reported to Evgenia, who initially got me interested in the placement. I really enjoyed working with her and this further solidified for me the idea that engineering certainly isn’t the sole domain of men.

– What are your plans going forward now you have completed your internship?

I will be completing my Master’s in Physics and look for job opportunities in the renewable energy sector. Working at ONYX has made me more confident in my abilities as an analyst and improved my professional skills so that I am confident there is a place for me in the sector once I have completed my studies. The internship has been a big life event for me and has given me experiences and knowledge that I can take forwards into my career.

I have realised that machine learning is a very ‘in-demand’ skill, and the skills I’ve developed in this internship will be very helpful throughout my Master’s degree studies.

I have a much keener interest in the wind industry now and will of course be keeping a close eye on job opportunities at ONYX InSight for when I graduate in 2020!

Back To Top