The University of Southampton

Southampton challenges public stereotypes for 'This is Engineering' Day

Published: 6 November 2019
Dr Kai Yang is developing new e-textile technologies that can relieve pain for people living with arthritis.

The University of Southampton has celebrated the engineers shaping the world around us as a supporting partner of 'This is Engineering' Day.

The Russell Group University has joined forces with the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) for the national campaign, which aims to change the public perception of engineers by showing a different - and more representative - image of the profession in the 21st Century.

The day has been created as part of the 'This is Engineering' campaign that is addressing a significant skills and diversity shortfall hampering the profession.

One of the major barriers to young people aspiring to be engineers is deeply rooted cultural perceptions of engineering as narrow, mechanical, too technical, and dull: a perception that’s being reinforced online. Representative images for 'engineers' on online search engines offer a very narrow view, one that supports stereotypical ideas that engineering only happens in hard hats, on construction sites.

Today, universities and companies across the UK that depend on engineering and the ingenuity of engineers, such as Google and Facebook, are challenging this narrow stereotype of the engineer.

Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science is promoting the journey of Dr Kai Yang, a Principal Research Fellow in the Smart Electronic Materials and Systems (SEMS) research group who is developing new e-textile technologies that can relieve pain for people living with arthritis.

Since studying Material Engineering at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology in China, Kai has gathered over a decade of experience in novel e-textile materials, manufacturing and development of applications in healthcare and wearable technologies.

She is mid-way through her current Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Fellowship, following the innovative creation of a wearable Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) training system for stroke upper limb rehabilitation funded by Medical Research Council.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CEO, Royal Academy of Engineering, said: "Engineering and technology play an incredible role in shaping the world around us and in addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, from providing a sustainable supply of food, water and clean energy, to advancing healthcare, and keeping us safe and secure. We know that young people increasingly want to tackle these issues and make a difference in the world, but unfortunately the lack of understanding around engineering is stopping them from exploring careers that will enable them to do this.

"This matters because we face an estimated shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers each year in the UK, and there is a pressing need to diversify our engineering workforce since only 12% of professional engineers are female and 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. That's why we've made 6 November 'This is Engineering' Day, to raise awareness of what engineers really do and celebrate those that are shaping the world we live in."

The University of Southampton has signed the 'This is Engineering' pledge to reflect the breadth and diversity of engineering by making more representative images of engineers and engineering more visible to the public.

Professor Bashir Al-Hashimi, Dean of Faculty Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: "We are delighted to join other universities and organisations in signing this pledge which firmly commits us to clearly reflect the breadth and diversity of our profession. Engineering is an exciting, varied and rewarding career, and yet the UK has a shortage of young people applying for engineering courses and engineering jobs.

"One of the prime reasons for this shortage is that many people hold outdated views of what engineering is and we will work hard to change that public perception by showing a different and more representative image of the engineering in the 21st Century."

For more information on the campaign, and to show your support visit the and follow @ThisIsEngineering on Instagram.

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