Rosie Barnes is a mechanical engineer with a PhD in mechanical engineering. She has been working with renewable energy and other clean energy technologies for nearly 20 years, and now runs a small consulting company developing these technologies and helping investors understand them better.
Beyond her day job, Rosie is also sharing her knowledge on YouTube. Here, we chat to Rosie about her journey on YouTube and what she hopes to share and achieve.
Can you tell us a little bit about your channel and how you got started?
My YouTube origin is a bit of a cliche, I got made redundant right at the start of the pandemic, and had time on my hands. It started with just one video idea. I was living in Denmark and wanted to show all the cool historical wind turbines in the area I lived in. I got good feedback on that video so I made another one... and then I just kept doing it!
How do you use YouTube to share your interests?
My work gives me a real sense of optimism and progress, so I wanted to share that with a wider audience. Renewable energy technologies are what I know best, and I am frustrated at how little people understand the real engineering behind them. I wanted to share the promising technologies, what challenges remain and how engineers are solving them. My channel attracts industry insiders as well as everyday people who want to minimise their environmental impact. I hope the information I provide will help them to make more informed decisions about these technologies in their work or daily lives.
How do you use YouTube to engage your audience and develop your content?
I work in a very male-dominated field, so I wasn't sure how I would be received. But my audience is by far the main reason I have kept going with YouTube, they really are the best - and the comments section on my videos are such a fun place to be.
I would say 99% of the discussion in the comments section is debate about the technical topics I cover. People share their experiences with similar technologies (a lot of my audience work in the industry), and debate the pros and cons and ideas to solve problems.
Early on I had a lot of comments on issues with my production quality, and it wasn't just criticism (which was certainly warranted at that point!) but people sharing resources on microphone suggestions, and linking to studio lighting tutorials and stuff like that. I really love how it feels like a community of people, all of us want to make the channel better and better. The viewer feedback has really sped up my development as a communicator.
I also use the Community tab to get feedback for upcoming videos, to get ideas for questions ahead of interviews or to figure out which aspects of a broad topic I should focus on in a livestream.
Has your content helped change the perception of women in engineering?
Sometimes I hear from people that they watch my videos with their daughters and that makes me so happy!
Throughout my career I have always said yes to any possible speaking or interview opportunities, because I feel that if someone is going to be talking about engineering it would be nice if it was a woman.
I rarely talk explicitly about gender issues on the channel, and no one ever brings it up in the comments. To me that feels like evidence that perceptions have already changed a lot, the fact that I don't feel I'm judged by a different standard because of my gender. At least, I don't feel judged on YouTube.
I have certainly experienced plenty of sexism throughout my professional career! But my hope and expectation is that the girls watching my channel now won't have such a hard time in their engineering careers, because everyone is a lot more used to female engineers than they were when I started 20 years ago.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in your field of expertise and how did you overcome them?
I’ve certainly experienced sexism throughout my professional career, often very subtle but occasionally quite blatant. The most frustrating and common annoyances have been people assuming that any mistakes I made were because women are just not as good engineers as men, and anything good I did was a result of favouritism. I just ignored it and kept going, but I know a lot of women drop out of engineering because they just get sick of this behaviour.
One thing I noticed only late in my career was how strange it is to never be working with people "like" me. I have always worked in male dominated jobs, and done male-dominated hobbies, like mountain biking, so I didn't really notice until a couple of years ago when a couple of senior-level women joined my department, and they were totally themselves. One of them often brought her baking into the office, and another wore dresses. I would never have done either of those things at work even though I wear dresses sometimes and bake a lot in my personal life.
I hadn't even noticed, but I had a distinct "work personality" that was carefully trimmed of the "girly" parts of my real personality.
I felt so freed when these women at work showed me that they are not worried about their real selves fitting in with the guys. So now I try hard to make sure my channel isn't a carbon copy of the male creators in my niche, but rather that it reflects me. Hopefully people's idea of what an engineer looks like will start to broaden to include feminine aspects and not just women acting like men.
What would you say to encourage more women to enter this field? And why do you think that’s an important goal to strive for?
I want to encourage girls into engineering because I know how satisfying it is for me as a career, and everyone should have a chance to find their passion. When I watch biopics about scientists like Alan Turing or Stephen Hawking, I feel sad watching the university scenes with no female students. There must have been women just like me back then who were engineers at heart but had to settle for something else instead. What a shame for those women and a shame for society that we have only been getting half of the geniuses we would have if women had always had equal access.
I think that it is important to get more women into engineering because engineers are the ones solving the world's big problems. We need the best team possible, and diversity is so important to innovation.
A lot of people think that girls are less interested in engineering than boys, but I think that is untrue, even for girls who are not playing lego or building stuff in their garages. My earliest engineering training was baking and sewing clothes for my barbies, but I think people doing those hobbies aren't naturally identified as future engineers the way a lego or electronics hobby would be.
Discover four other women and how they are using their channels to empower and inspire here.