Penny Endersby has thrived in an eclectic research and management career that has guarded national security through advances spanning from electric armours to cyber defence. She promotes diversity in engineering as a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton while working as a Division Head at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
Penny wants to help the Ministry of Defence (MOD) access the very latest academic research as a Future Worlds mentor as she shares her diverse skillset with new partners at the university.
She grew up in north London and attended the University of Cambridge where she enrolled in a course in natural sciences. She soon discovered however that her interests lay in applied science and took advantage of the flexibility of the course to specialise in Material Science and Metallurgy.
“When I look at my life, a lot of things I planned were overtaken by changes in my life or changes in science,” she says. “You can’t predict life and you need to seize the opportunities that are there rather than trying to think you know what you will be doing in many years’ time.”
Penny was sponsored by British Gas during her time at Cambridge and built experience in the corporation’s marketing department before she changed to a more natural role researching solid oxide fuel cells.
Faced with the prospect of an unexpected relocation at work, she next decided to take a role at the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) in Fort Halstead, working on novel and intelligent armours. She became a skilled explosives ordinance engineer over 10 years at the defence group and built a reputation as a world class expert in her field.
“I ended up as Mrs Electric Armour,” she says. “I am still inspired by fantastic science now. When I see something that makes me gasp or someone who cracks something that seemed impossible, it gives me such energy – whether it’s my own staff, suppliers or students at university.”
Changes in the structure of RARDE saw Penny’s role transfer to her current employer Dstl, where she used her expertise to lead the team which built and tested the world’s first electrically armoured vehicle. She turned to management and began working with a team of high-impact physicists and acoustic engineers who channeled their technology to detect enemy submarines and snipers.
Having embraced her new-found managerial status, she stepped up to lead to the organisation’s physics department which included work on chemical protection equipment and materials for air, land and sea platforms.
She was invited to become a Royal Academy Visiting Professor in Southampton and later moved to Dstl’s Information Management Department. Most recently, Penny was made Head of the Cyber and Information Systems Division – an area with more than 400 staff which turns over £120 million of research every year.
Outside of work, Penny shares a love of music with her two children and sings in a chamber choir. She also has an avid interest in wildlife and record’s UK phenology – the changes in animal and plant life dictated by the seasons.
She advises staff and students considering their careers to be mindful of their failures.
“If you try lots of things and always succeed, you’re probably not being ambitious enough,” she says. “We have to accept that sometimes failure is part of learning to be innovative and doing something new. You don’t really know if it will give you something better until later.”
Penny would be happy to meet students to give advice on research or employability. She also has skills in management, finances, strategic direction and conflict resolution that she is looking to share with staff thinking of founding a startup or stepping up to a managerial post. You can get in touch with Penny using the contact form on this page.
“There’s a bit of give and a bit of take in why I want to be a Future Worlds mentor,” she says. “In my visiting professorship I’m really keen to help develop the student body at Southampton and help them to be as employable as possible. I want them to enjoy their time and launch successful careers”.
“Southampton is also a really important strategic partner for Dstl and I want to build the networks both for recruitment and for commissioning research in the university, taking advantage of the excellent skillbase here.”