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"It was thrilling to have this award established in my name"

Gillian Pearce at her Graduation

Gillian Pearce, Sussex’s first female engineering graduate, talks about her Sussex journey and the motivation behind supporting the Gillian Pearce Prize in Engineering and Informatics.

I was drawn to Materials Science thanks to a holiday job at Philips. Both my parents worked there, my father as an engineer and my mother as a bookkeeper. I was placed with an industrial chemist who was working on ferrite cores, which were used for computer memories before the advent of semi-conductors. It inspired my interest in materials and what they could do for us.

All of the universities that I applied to were modern, but I was especially drawn to Sussex because of its interdisciplinarity. My course provided a background in different subjects, in particular other aspects of engineering, some electrical, some mechanical and so on. That’s why Sussex was so good; with that mixture of studies it gave me an insight into different subjects and technologies.

I thought that it was quite enlightened for Sussex to give me a place. My A levels weren’t that good. I attended a convent school and we didn’t have an advanced physics or a chemistry teacher of our own – we had to borrow one from the local boys’ school who could only teach us for a few hours every week. Sussex took this into account and offered me a place regardless.

At the time, I didn’t think it was particularly outstanding to be Sussex’s first female engineering graduate, although in hindsight I can see just how pioneering that was. Having a Sussex degree served me well – it made it easier to get a good job.

It was my Materials Science tutor at Sussex who suggested that I should investigate Information Science. My first job was at The Royal School of Mines at Imperial College, then I moved to IBM Hursley Laboratories and, for the final phase of my career, I worked at the Drug Safety Research Unit at Southampton University, which carried out epidemiological research into new drugs in the aftermath of the Thalidomide scandal. I was the Database Manager and was responsible for computing there.

I was surprised and thrilled when Sussex suggested putting my name to a prize. What is more, my friends are all very impressed! I never dreamed of instigating something like this, but having had the concept presented to me, I decided to support it in the future by making a yearly gift for as long as I am able. It is really gratifying being able to help Sussex students.

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By: Emma Wigmore
Last updated: Tuesday, 5 May 2020

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School of Engineering and Informatics (for staff and students)

School Office:
School of Engineering and Informatics, University of Sussex, Chichester 1 Room 002, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QJ
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