Siobhan Duncan

Everyone in my family – and not just my immediate family – is either an engineer or a musician.

My dad’s a software engineer, my uncle a composer who plays tuba for an orchestra, my brother and sister are both in computing and AI and so it goes on. I’m definitely cut from the same cloth; I have a passion for both.

Music was the path I followed initially, applying to RSAMD (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow, believing it a total long-shot, but being accepted onto the programme. It was too good an opportunity to miss and I spent an amazing two years in Glasgow, studying and gigging – I got to perform at both Edinburgh and Glasgow Jazz festivals during this time. I was torn however. I missed engineering and was envious of friends who had pursued sciences at university. I decided it was time to chase my other dream.

I’d always loved Lego, building things and modifying them – fancied myself an inventor – and, being a big Sci-Fi enthusiast, was fascinated by robots. I have my two high school Physics teachers to thank for fostering in me a deep interest in STEM. They encouraged me to apply for a regional Space School programme. It was heavily competed and about 30 pupils from across the Highlands and Islands were accepted onto the first round. I was lucky enough to be one of them, which meant I got to meet real astronauts. We were tasked to invent something functional for astronauts to use in a space station. Mine was a form of toolbelt and it got me through to the next round, which was a residential camp in Edinburgh. I was 15 at the time and had an absolute blast. It was my first experience of programming robots and fuelled my enthusiasm for robotics.

After finishing up at RSAMD I got a conditional offer from Heriot-Watt University (I needed to resit my Maths and Physics Highers as they have a three-year shelf-life!) and then started out on a Combined Studies degree before settling on a BEng in Computing and Electronics. I set my sights on the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics for a MRes/PhD programme but, to guarantee myself a place, I had to get a First. Only twelve students were admitted that year, two women – and I was one of them.

A career highlight to date was winning an award at the ACM symposium on Applied Computing Conference, a student research competition. I was also the only woman that made it to the final five which made it all the sweeter when I won.

I am passionate about community outreach, particularly encouraging young girls to consider a career in STEM. I regularly visit schools, present at events and do my best to inspire the next generation of female engineers and roboticists by being a very visible (and vocal!) cheerleader and role model.

Before starting my MRes/PhD, I worked for an app development company for a year but first came across Robotical in 2017 when working at the Edinburgh Science Festival. We attended a training day at their office and I connected immediately with the team and Marty the Robot. I kept up to date with company developments and when I spotted a recruitment ad for a Lead Developer, I had to throw my hat into the ring. I feel so privileged to have landed my dream job. I had always wanted to go into EdTech and create a robot that would help engage young kids in STEM and with Robotical, I get to do just that!