maria wood

Maria Wood

Hey, I’m Maria. I’m 24 and I did an integrated masters in physics at Imperial College in London. My primary passion lies in sustainability and tackling climate change – I channelled this by studying plasma physics (the physics behind nuclear fusion) in the hope of helping to further this field. I also really enjoyed my general relativity course as it opened my eyes to the sheer wonder of our universe! Studying physics helped me to both learn more about abstract, fascinating concepts and practically equip me with skills to help to do something to make our world more sustainable.

It might sound cliche, but being confident in yourself and your abilities even if you don’t feel it is really important – others in your cohort may have inflated egos which could really make you doubt yourself and if you allow this to get to you, it can be self-fulfilling!

I work in energy and climate consulting. I got into this area after I finished my degree in Physics because I wanted to use my technical skills in a way that would help to solve the climate emergency by bringing about decarbonisation. It took me a while to get here, taking some temporary diversions exploring academia, financial software, etc, but I’m really glad I ended up here working on something I’m passionate about.

In my job I do a lot of work in whole energy systems modelling and optimisation to find the best pathway for a net zero system. It’s really exciting to work with local authorities to help them achieve their sustainability goals. I’ve also worked on renewable energy feasibility assessments and building decarbonisation strategies for lots of different clients.

At university, I got to work at the Swiss Plasma Centre in Lausanne for my masters project where I worked on plasma diagnostics – learning about the basic properties of plasmas and understanding what these measurable parts tell us about it. It was a fun mix of using equipment and instruments, then writing code to simulate a system that we could compare results against.

I’m really proud of my job! I just got promoted last week to Analyst at Arup (an engineering consultancy) where I feel like I really make a difference by bringing about decarbonisation. I’m really proud to be a part of this female-led, impactful team where I can also keep learning more about the field, policy, and honing my technical and non-technical skills. I’m also proud that this career, alongside climate activism in my private life, has enabled me to speak to B-Corps in my local area at PurposeFest where I spoke and explored the idea of corporate activism, where business meets making a difference.

I’m normally in the office 9-530. My day is quite varied, and I love that. Sometimes I’m in meetings with my team or with clients, sometimes I’m using Excel for data analysis, sometimes I’m writing code for data analysis and manipulation, sometimes I’m writing reports or conducting policy and literature reviews. The variety is what I love about the job – it’s not always the same thing. But my favourite is when I have a few hours free to fiddle about with a problem that I can’t solve and try to find a new way of getting what I need. This happens a lot when I’m running energy models in python as the initial results are often a bit unclear and they need synthesizing into a clear routemap for the client.

My favourite part of my job is probably knowing that what I’m doing is contributing to helping to reduce our country’s carbon emissions and driving change within the system, especially when I get to work with clients such as the Welsh Government. This, and working with a great team that’s female-led!

I’m still pretty early in my career so I’m lucky enough to not have faced any major setbacks yet. While I was at university, COVID hit in my penultimate year and I broke my leg at the same time, meaning that I had to do my whole masters project remotely in a condensed period of time and couldn’t take part in the internship I was meant to do that summer. It was a really tough year, but I knuckled down and used the lockdown/inability to walk to my advantage – my masters project had to be coding-based as it was remote so I taught myself how to code in a really short space of time. It ended up being a really good thing! And it gave me the time to rethink what I wanted to do and pivot away from the traditional physics grad career path of finance to something I’m passionate about.

 I was fortunate enough to have some really great female role models in my life. Through school, my maths and science teachers were often women who were really fantastic and supportive of women in STEM. At university, the leader of my department was an incredible woman, Michelle Dougherty, whom I really admired. And now in my job all the most senior people in my team are amazing women! I think having strong support networks and mentors is extremely important for fostering women to pursue careers in STEM, as I’m no longer daunted by sometimes being the only woman in the room.

My main passion is climate activism. I work with lots of organisations such as the green party, extinction rebellion, and just stop oil. It’s something that I cannot see myself ever not being involved in – fighting for my own future and that of others is the most important thing! And it comes with some added perks of meeting some amazing people along the way and getting to speak to so many different members of the public.

Yes, definitely. So much! When I first started my degree I was so convinced that I was simply the most stupid in the room – especially when the table of around 8 in my tutorial class was all very bolshy confident men! Right through my degree I felt that I was seconds away from being outed as “that girl who is barely scraping by and shouldn’t be here” but I graduated with a great degree, and that proves I was meant to be there!

This is something I care deeply about as I know so many women who have felt discouraged from pursuing a career in STEM due to lack of representation. During the pandemic I was a volunteer tutor for school pupils who were affected by schools closing and I tutored a girl in A level chemistry, and I hope this helped to build her confidence to pursue science further. Throughout school, university, and now my career I have been a member of Women in STEM groups to support my peers and build a strong community of solidarity. I’m immensely fortunate to work in a woman-led team at work, which allows me not only to thrive, but also to learn from their manoeuvring of the male-led field.

To me, it’s just about making sure that there’s diversity of thought and representation in every group. Today, science is seen as the main guide for everything – policy, opinions, whatever. So being in STEM means having a chance to have a seat at that table and that’s super important. We need to be there to make sure the decisions that are being made are accounting for the voices of half the population!

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