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STEM case study - Lesley Torbet

What you need to know

Lesley Torbet - Systems Engineer, Thales UK

I am employed by Thales UK as a Systems Engineer and am based in their Belfast office. I didn’t know growing up that I would choose a STEM career.  But I am delighted that I did and I would actively encourage other women and girls to consider STEM careers - the options are wide and varied.
Lesley Torbet
I grew up in Scotland just outside Glasgow but have made Northern Ireland my home. During my school days, I excelled at both science and maths, but didn’t really know what exactly I wanted to do in third level education. When thinking about university and filling in my UCAS form I was considering a broad range of subjects from optometry to genetics to forensic chemistry. During my final year at school, a visit to a local engineering firm fully opened my eyes to the possibilities within the world of engineering.

I chose to study Aero-Mechanical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde – it combined my love of physics and maths along with the complexity of aircraft design and manufacture. I was really excited to be accepted on to the course.

Nearly all of my friends at school chose to study in the STEM field at university. Their course choices ranged from medicine and architecture to accountancy and engineering.  My university course was predominantly male and out of around 200 students only about 10% were girls! This was pretty daunting at first but everyone soon got used to the mix and eventually I didn’t even notice. The girls in the engineering faculty had also set up a club for woman in STEM courses to promote student-to-student and student-to-company networking, so it was great to have lots of support.

At university I was an active STEM ambassador as I wanted to encourage others to consider the endless exciting opportunities that a career in STEM can offer.  I worked to promote the benefits of science, technology, engineering and maths to young people, especially girls, and assisted at events in places like the Scottish Space School. It was at a Space School event that I found the ultimate inspiration when I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to the engineers and scientists from NASA – this was the stuff of dreams! It was then that I realised I wanted to be part of something innovative, to explore the boundaries of modern technology.

I was delighted to graduate with a Masters in Engineering and applied for a graduate position as an Aerodynamicist with Thales in Belfast. This was exactly the opportunity that I had hoped for.

I have now been working with Thales for over 6 years and am currently based in the Systems Design and Synthetic Environment Team as a Systems Engineer. I am lucky to have a range of opportunities presented to me every day. Our office environment is fast paced and varied – it is a challenge to keep up with recent technological advances and we always have the opportunity to get our hands dirty.

As I am based in a global engineering company I have the opportunity to work with engineers from across all disciplines. This allows me to expand my technical knowledge on a daily basis and the experience I have gained at Thales is second to none. It has been invaluable to me as I work steadily towards my Chartered Engineer status with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

I am keen to show others, especially young women and girls, that they can have really successful STEM careers if they are interested and dedicated. I have taken up the STEM Ambassador role within my company and been appointed as STEM schools coordinator as part of the Thales Belfast Business Outreach programme. I want to share my experience, answer their questions, and hopefully offer some encouragement and support so that these girls and young women will dare to dream of STEM careers.

I know I have been extremely lucky on my STEM journey. I studied subjects I loved and use these every day in a job I love. Every day in Thales is different and presents its own challenges. I have had the exceptional opportunity to be involved in a project from concept, through to design, testing and manufacture. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing something you have been working on coming off the assembly line.

My ambition is to excel technically in my field and become a subject matter expert in IVVQA (Integration, Verification, Validation, Qualification and Acceptance) of products and systems. I feel at home within the Thales Company and in the field of systems engineering. I would love to further my career within this department. I know I still have a lot to learn and my STEM journey has a long way to go, but I’m lucky that I am surrounded daily by highly experienced engineers who are willing and able to help me along the way.

Thales signing the STEM Charter

(left-right) The Equality Commission's Chief Executive Dr Evelyn Collins CBE with Lesley and Philip McBride, General Manager, Thales UK signing the STEM Charter
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