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Elpida’s career journey from a PhD to becoming Engineering Education Developer & Coordinator at UCL

By Vivienne C Watson, on 19 April 2016

elpidaElpida Makrygianni has a PhD in Computer Science and Electronic & Electrical Engineering and now works as an Engineering Education Developer & Coordinator at UCL. Elpida spoke to UCL Careers about her post-PhD career.

Tell us about your job.

My job focuses on developing and managing a comprehensive suite of engineering engagement and education programmes for children and young people aged 5 -19 years old from London and across the UK. Central to my role is the development of a Pre-19 engagement strategy, which increases access and widens diversity in every sense, where engineering is seen as intrinsically worthwhile and relevant to young people from all walks of life. Through our programmes we seek to change the stereotyped perceptions of suitable choices and careers in young people – both girls and boys – their teachers, parents, carers and youth workers, by raising awareness of the exciting and wide-ranging careers in engineering.

How did you move from a PhD to your current role?

After studying computer science and engineering with genetics, social science and economics at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, my passion for research led me to a PhD in Artificial Intelligent Systems mapping China’s economic growth. In the first year of my PhD, I took on a role as a teaching assistant for undergraduate students and research assistant on EU projects. Being a doctoral student was one of the most exciting, transformative yet stressful periods of my life. When I finished my PhD, I took a six-month break and travelled around Europe. In 2008, I returned to the UK and started working for the Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation on science and technology educational projects in the UK, US and China. In 2011, I was offered a job opportunity as a consultant for the UK Department for Education to design training and educational materials for school pupils with autism. Before moving to UCL, I worked at Cambridge University researching the role of STEM education in schools across the country in rural and urban areas.

What does an average working day look like?

Each working day is very different, from visiting schools, to running activities and events, to designing new programmes, working with staff and students on existing and new activities, talking at conferences, writing articles and grant proposals, meeting and working with industry partners to supporting schools with bespoke tailored programmes. Most of my time is spent out of the office. My schedule is usually quite demanding and I am always on the move so maintaining a happy, healthy work life balance is extremely important for me.

How does your PhD help you in your job?

My doctoral studies allowed me to develop good project management, communication and writing skills but also knowledge on engineering education. The choices made during my PhD and throughout my career path, also tested my ability to adapt, achieve and be effective with different teams and work environments. In addition, it encouraged me to be brave when selecting exciting new roles – that might have seemed out of my reach at first – greatly increasing my self-confidence in the process.

What are the best things about your job?

The most fascinating part of my job is working with staff and students to create exciting activities based on cutting edge research conducted at the labs with a strong social context or environmental focus. I am constantly given a unique opportunity to learn about advances in areas of engineering while meeting extraordinary individuals conducting research in our faculty. Inspiring pupils about engineering and enabling them to develop their problem-solving skills, knowledge and self-confidence, while sparking their creativity and curiosity around STEM careers and degrees is what makes my job very special.

What are the downsides?

There are no real downsides or big challenges in my role, but working with a network of over 400 schools, thousands of pupils and 500 academics and students can be quite overwhelming and extremely busy at times. This pace of work can be invigorating for some people and discouraging for others.

What tips would you give researchers wanting to move into the same, or similar, role?

Researchers wanting to move into this field will need to be quite entrepreneurial, independent, good time-managers and communicators as well as qualified and experienced in the fields of engineering and social science. Work experience or working as an assistant can be an excellent way to find out if a role is for you or not.

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