Shooting for the stars during Covid-19

Science Week and International Women’s Day arrive together this year. Edwina Paisley, Director of Space Programmes at Inmarsat, and Programme Manager for the Inmarsat-6 (I-6) programme, the most complex satellites the company has made to date, reflects back on her experience starting a career in science and what Covid-19 has taught us about working in STEM.

Building a career you love

As a young child, I grew up in a family of accountants but always enjoyed working with my hands. My childhood was spent in the Philippines, which gave me a unique and practical experience. For instance, I was able to work with my father on manual activities such as fixing boats. This instilled a love of making things work and ultimately led me down a path to engineering, a career I love.

I was very fortunate in my education that nobody imposed any pre-conceived ideas about what I should be doing. This gave me the opportunity to decide truly for myself which areas I wanted to focus on. At university, when offered the opportunity to pick from all the available courses, I chose the most difficult ones because they were interesting to me. I think giving women independent choice about what they want to specialise in at an early age is vital. It breaks down gender stereotypes and helps women access industries traditionally dominated by men.

Edwina Paisley, Director of Space Programmes at Inmarsat, and Programme Manager for the Inmarsat-6

Once I started my career, I realised the value of mentors. For me there have always been two types of role model: quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative mentors are technical. They help build up your knowledge of the subject matter. Qualitative mentors help you develop people management skills. For me, combining the two and regularly changing mentors has helped me progress quickly.

Another key learning is to build deep expertise at the start of your career. You can generalise at any stage of your development but specialising in a specific area takes time and dedication. I believe having a deep understanding of a subject can generate confidence and help carve out a position of authority within the team from the outset. Most senior engineers only have one area of expertise, so it is unlikely to limit development.

INMARSAT I-6 F1 vibration testing

Covid-19’s impact

The past year has undoubtedly made me rethink some elements of my career and how I manage my team and workflow.

My husband and I had to start home schooling our children during the first lockdown in France, which gave me a new appreciation for teachers – personally I think they’re magic! It was challenging to manage work and make sure they were occupied at all times. I’ve become increasingly conscious that many people I work with are affected in a similar way.

I also had to work with a more disrupted team working remotely. While it has certainly had its challenges, it’s also developed a new culture which benefits everyone. As building satellites is a very practical task, we have had to trust each other to be our eyes and ears. This has developed relationships within the team and created a lot of respect for what different people do.

We’ve also been given a rare glimpse into more of people’s lives. For me this has really brought home that everyone has circumstances – often challenging and certainly varied – and a personal life outside of work.

Inmarsat has dedicated a lot of resources to making sure people have suitable conditions to work in. Helping people manage their mental and physical health has been a big focus in the company too. All those organised fitness workshops have helped enormously!

As odd as it sounds, 2020 had many mini-highlights in which we harnessed the challenging landscape to make things better. Achievements in adversity are very valuable to take with us in our heads and to sustain us when times are tough.

The next year

For me personally, I can’t wait to get on a plane and travel to the launch site of our new I-6 satellite in Japan later this year. We launch a satellite every few years but this one is particularly special for me.

This launch is likely to be the most significant milestone in my career to date as it supports our world-leading network and will deliver faster, more reliable connectivity to ships, planes and people out at sea, in remote areas on land or in the air.

Our history as a company goes back more than 40 years to when we first began offering safety services to sailors out at sea. Now with I-6 launching, it’s my chance to take so many vital services into the next era. There was no such thing as making a Zoom call out at sea 40 years ago because the technology didn’t exist. Thanks to the work of people like us and the satellites we control, now you can.