The Engineering Trust

Women in Engineering - Dr Kathryn Richards

We’re inspiring future engineers around the world through International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June.
We speak to Dr Kathryn Richards
Wind Tunnel Test Technician
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team

My name is Dr Kathryn Richards and I am a Wind Tunnel Test Technician for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. I have been in my current position for almost 15 years and before that I was working at the Meteorology Institute of the University of Hamburg, Germany, looking at wind flow around heated buildings. I have a degree in Aerospace Engineering and a PhD looking at the influence of aerodynamics on the pollution dispersion around a road vehicle. I am also an Ambassador for the charity Dare to be Different. Outside work I just like to relax and spend time at home and with family. I also love to ski, eat and travel in that order!

Tell us about your job. What does a typical day at work look like for you?
My primary role as a Wind Tunnel Test Technician is to run the wind tunnel and provide a service to the aerodynamicists so they can put performance on the race car. To be honest there is no real typical day. In any one shift my duties can range from running the tunnel, carrying out preventative maintenance, looking at tunnel data and diagnostics to ensure everything is working correctly and writing/updating operational procedures. 

How does your work feed into the wider team performance?  
It is vital that the tunnel runs accurately, and the results are repeatable as any developments found in the tunnel can end up on the race car and go to the track. 

Tell us about a specific project that you consider a high point so far in your career? Why does this one stick out from others?
Being part of such an amazing team and winning six world championships in succession gives me an immense feeling of pride.  To know that I have contributed to such an achievement by doing the job I love is an amazing feeling.  However, if there was to be a standout moment it would be winning the championship against all odds when we were Brawn GP. That was a fairy-tale year.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how did you get over them? 
To be honest there have been no real major challenges for me during my career. I knew that I was going into an industry where there were only a few women in engineering roles, but this did not worry me. This has changed now, although as far as I know I am still the only female wind tunnel technician in F1. 

What are the most important skills you use within your job and why?
In my job you need to be focused, thorough and adaptable. There is no tailored qualification for being a wind tunnel technician - it just requires a good background knowledge, willingness to learn and work hard. 

What aspirations do you have for your career in the future?
I love my job and enjoy coming into work each day. I just want to carry on what I am doing. I aspire to be the best I can be each day and that is all I ask of myself.

Tell us more about being an Ambassador for D2BD and the work they do?
As an Ambassador for D2BD I have been to a few schools and events to talk about my journey into motorsport. D2BD is a charity founded by formed racing driver Susie Wolff which aims to inspire the next generation of female talent and connect young girls with female mentors already in the motorsport industry.

Who inspires you?
People who work hard, respect and take time for others inspire me. Early on in my educational career I was lucky enough to have a great mentor and friend who encouraged and helped me through the some more challenging times. If it was not for his support and encouragement I would not be where I am today.

Do you feel there are enough opportunities for Women within the engineering sector? If so/not, why?
I don’t think it is about there not being enough opportunities. I think the issue is more at the education level. Currently only 16% of students graduating from engineering and technology courses in the UK are women. If women aren’t studying engineering, then employers can’t recruit them. Employers, schools and universities can all work together to create that pipeline, which is where initiatives such as Dare To Be Different come in. 

Do you have any words of wisdom for young Women who might be considering a career in Engineering or more widely in STEM? 
Work hard, stay focused and don’t let anyone tell you that can’t or shouldn’t do anything. Follow your heart and stay true to yourself.