In the second of our sustainability research focused student profiles we meet Samantha Chinyoka, who is studying for an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at Churchill College. Samantha is from Zimbabwe and her research is on gender mainstreaming in renewable energy deployment in developing countries, with a focus on Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. It aims to provide a gender lens to renewable energy deployment to ensure energy rights outcomes for all.

In these developing countries, energy poverty is greatly experienced in rural areas that lack infrastructure for electricity grid connections, which limits production for economic growth and blunts efforts to escape poverty traps. Despite the efforts made to deploy Decentralised Renewable Energy Technologies (DRETs) in these off-grid areas, huge energy access gaps still exist, and women, who make up most of the rural population, bear the brunt of energy poverty as the benefits derived from the currently deployed DRETs are skewed towards men.

Prior to her current studies, Samantha received her BSc (Hons) degree in Applied Physics from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe, and a Beit-Leeds Scholarship award to study for an MSc degree in Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy Systems at the University of Leeds. She co-authored two research papers at Leeds, one of which received a high commendation in the Sustainability and Practice category at the SEEDS 2020 International Conference (links below). After graduating, Samantha moved back to Zimbabwe and worked at a green energy company for a year. The main challenge she encountered working on projects for the renewable electrification of rural schools in Zimbabwe was a lack of enabling policies that aid the deployment of renewable energy technologies and she decided to pursue further studies to help address this challenge.

Given that my country’s economic growth depends on an energy sector that is carbon dependent, I wanted to learn specific skills for developing suitable solutions that can support countries in transitioning to clean energy modes without crippling their economies or threatening energy security, which is crucial for development.

Samantha was drawn to the Cambridge MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development (ESD) because of its systems-thinking approach to problem-solving, ‘I thought this to be an outstanding approach to adopt for promoting just energy transitions, which piqued my interest in learning more about sustainable development’. She was awarded a fully funded International Masters Scholarship by ScottishPower to pursue her MPhil studies at Cambridge which covers both her course fees and living expenses.

Samantha has always cared for the environment from a very young age and studied STEM subjects in high school. However, she was not always clear on what career path to take. Initially, she wanted to study Chemical Engineering, but was not accepted into the programme and was offered a place to study Applied Physics instead. When a place opened up on the Chemical Engineering course she bumped into a lecturer who explained how Applied Physics was a broad field of study that would enable her to branch out into a specialised career of choice once she was surer of what she wanted to do. She stayed on the programme and after two years of enduring the difficulties of deriving Quantum Physics equations decided to major in Industrial and Instrumentation Physics. For her industrial placement, she worked with an Industrial Automation company whose work mainly involved Electrical Engineering.

Following my lived experience with energy challenges in my country, I decided to pursue Renewable Energy Engineering, and that is how I ended up reading for an MSc degree in Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy Systems at the University of Leeds. I also pursued this programme of study due to a keen interest in climate change mitigation through renewable-based energy transitions.

Life at Churchill College

Churchill College attracted Samantha because of its focus on STEM subjects and recognition of women in this field of study. She also appreciated the great facilities, including the gym, sports field, and music centre. When she joined Churchill College, she immediately felt at home. The Postgraduate office, tutors, senior fellows, MCR, college nurses, and porters were a great help, and the many social events provided great opportunities for networking and learning from students from different backgrounds. Samantha also appreciated the College’s diverse culture and the inclusivity efforts made by the Tutorial Office and postgraduate community.

The College activities enabled me to engage in insightful discussions with other students from different countries, and this has broadened my horizons beyond a focus on my country’s challenges, which is instrumental in becoming an ambassador of global sustainable development.

In her spare time Samantha enjoys reading personal development books and listening to music. She also enjoys playing social tennis and volunteering. Samantha is also excited to be volunteering as a role model for the Sustainable Urban Futures Outreach event organised and hosted by Dr Rachel Thorley at Churchill College from the 22 – 25 August. Sustainable Urban Futures is a summer residential programme exploring university options and subjects related to sustainable development. The aim is to foster inclusivity and teamwork as participants work in teams to construct temporary “homes” inspired by informal settlement shelters. The programme emphasises the message of inclusivity and highlights how different skills and expertise are needed to create a sustainable future. There will be an open showcase event on Friday 25 August at Churchill College which is open to all to attend!

Book to attend: Sustainable Urban Futures Showcase Tickets, Fri 25 Aug 2023 at 13:00 | Eventbrite

Samantha will be joining ScottishPower Renewables in late October as a Graduate Electrical Engineer on the Onshore Wind team. She is looking to leverage the skills and wealth of knowledge she has gained from her master’s studies to help deliver sustainability projects and innovations that push boundaries and keep the company accountable to its strategic pathways for achieving net-zero ambitions. She plans to immerse myself in the graduate role to enhance her understanding of the ongoing transition to sustainable energy modes and start working towards becoming a chartered engineer.

After the graduate programme, Samantha hopes to gain a new role within the company that will enable her to develop new skills relevant to her long-term goal of becoming a sustainable energy leader, alongside engaging in energy policy development programmes and forums. 

Following my interest in energy policy, I would also like to actively support low-carbon economic growth in developing countries by engaging in high-level dialogue that effects change and participating in energy policy formulation.


Papers co-authored by Samantha at the University of Leeds:

Management Policy for Laboratory Electronic Waste from Grave to Cradle

Partial Shading Performance Evaluation of Bifacial PV Array Configurations