I cannot sit here and tell you I always wanted to be a civil engineer. I fell into engineering by mistake and I thank my lucky stars today that I stumbled across an incredible career. Now, I recognise the importance of spreading the word. So here goes….
At school, I took the A-levels that interested me. Maths, physics, chemistry and theatre studies. Whilst most people considered it an unusual choice to throw theatre studies in the mix, I think it’s important to do what makes you happy. It may not be a prerequisite of an engineering degree, but looking back, it helped me to develop those softer transferable skills such as teamwork, confidence and presentation ability, which are vital in any career.
My parents told me I would make a fantastic civil engineer (because I liked lego) and so without much idea of what an engineer did, I went off to the University of Nottingham to study a BEng in Civil Engineering. I absolutely loved being at University, Nottingham was brilliant and I made many lifelong friends. However, I spent three years being completely baffled by hydraulics, geotechnics and structures, and by the end of my degree, I knew that I definitely did not want to be a civil engineer.
I had secured sponsorship with my company Taylor Woodrow, one of the largest UK civil engineering contractors. At this point in my career, I did not understand the difference between contracting and consulting. The University degree was very theoretical and I thought a civil engineering career was purely about maths and design. I was good at maths, and I enjoyed it, but not to the point where I wanted to be a designer. My plan was to work for Taylor Woodrow while I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life.
For my first project I knew I was to be based at a building site, however, when I started work, I was surprised to actually be working on site. The work was very different to what I learnt at University, yet I could recognise myself utilising engineering principles on a day-to-day basis. Suddenly it all fell into place and I could practically apply my knowledge. Whilst I managed earthworks, I understood why I needed to know about earth pressures and how soils behaved. During quality checks on a concrete pour, I gained respect from operatives because I understood how concrete pressures would load the formwork. I was finally using my engineering knowledge in a practical and exciting way, not just sat behind a desk in a lecture theatre. Contracting was the career for me.
For civil engineers embarking upon their careers, the number one piece of advice I give is to understand the difference between consulting and contracting. Both have completely different roles and it would be dreadful to disengage with a career permanently, because you are simply in the wrong sector.
As I have continued on my engineering journey, my interest has grown and grown. I enjoy how every day, every task and every project is unique. I am a problem solver and enjoy challenges and I like the mental stimulation that engineering provides. Contracting allows you to do all of this in a fun, fast-paced and unpretentious environment.
I have been working full time since 2008 and during that time, I have had experience on a range of projects and placements that have allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the construction industry. This has included the £250m PFI Whiston Hospital for the NHS, Connaught Tunnel and surface rail works for Crossrail and Crossrail West stations, the redevelopment of 14 sites in the operational railway environment on the western surface section of Crossrail. I have also worked on a successful tender for the Croxley Rail Link in Watford, and undertaken a yearlong temporary works design placement where I designed a ground retention scheme to support Oxford Street during the demolition of Tottenham Court Road station for London Underground. Each placement has built my knowledge and understanding of civil engineering and helped me gain the attributes required for professional membership. In 2013, I was proud to be accepted into the Institution of Civil Engineers as an incorporated member.
My desire to learn does not stop at work. In 2012, I took part in a charity project with Engineers for Overseas Development, to design an incinerator for Kumi Hospital in a deprived area of Eastern Uganda. I helped to fundraise £10,000 and travelled to Uganda with another member to manage construction works. To build upon my existing BEng qualification, I have undertaken an MSc in my spare time, on a distance-learning basis, at Heriot-Watt University in Civil Engineering and Construction Management. This has provided me with the educational base to take my Chartered Professional Review in spring 2015. I was delighted in 2012 to be a finalist for the ‘Rising Star of the Year’ in the Construction News Awards and again in 2014 to be a finalist for ‘Engineer of the Year’ in the Women in Construction Awards.
As I progress with my career, I want to encourage others, particularly women, to get involved with this prestigious profession. I feel that many women are missing the best opportunity of their lives because of the lack of access to civil engineering at school age when vital choices are made. Many assume engineering is not for them, but I want to help inform and inspire the younger generation on the benefits of the career and help them make informed choices about their futures.