Una Beagon (nee McQuaid)

Karen Burt Winner 2000

I was a young engineer at the beginning of my career when, having just been awarded chartership of the Institution of Civil Engineers, I was nominated by the ICE and consequently won the Karen Burt Award in 2000. Now, as I approach my mid-career, it is interesting to look back and reflect on how life has changed in the passing years. 

I was lucky enough to realise at a young age that I wanted to be a Civil & Structural Engineer.  I’ve always wanted to build things and even today that remains with me.  I am luckier still that I have been given many opportunities over the years to work on exciting projects, with gracious colleagues across a wide range of industries.

Upon graduation from Queen’s University of Belfast in 1994 with a first class honours degree, I spent my early years with Doran Consulting in Belfast, a civil & structural engineering firm.  I was mentored by some excellent engineers who not only assisted me in developing my design skills but gave me great confidence in my abilities, and my potential to progress within the industry.  I was both encouraged and supported to obtain chartership of the ICE and Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) which I did at ages 26 and 27, which was relatively young in hindsight. I moved to London in 2000 to open a new office for Doran Consulting and it was at this stage of my career where I developed my business development and team management skills.  I ran a small team of engineers and technicians serving clients in the south east of England.  My experiences included some unusual buildings, from an air traffic control tower design and several prison projects to working with an inventor to design a hammock supported only on one side.

I moved back to Ireland in 2004 to be closer to family and took a position with PHMcCarthy Consulting Engineers, as a Regional Director.  This was in the midst of the Celtic Tiger when engineers in Dublin were desperately needed to keep up with the construction industry’s thirst for development.  It was an exciting time although very busy, but I was lucky to be managing a talented team of 20 engineers and technicians, who put in significant efforts to meet difficult deadlines whilst maintaining quality designs for our clients.  I also took the opportunity during this time to work closely with young graduate engineers to mentor them through chartership examinations and also visited a few schools to promote engineering as a great career choice. 
It was during this time that we extended our family with our first daughter and whilst it was a busy time we were able to juggle full time jobs whilst looking after our bundle of joy.  After my second daughter was born, I decided to work part-time lecturing in Dublin Institute of Technology.  Although thrown in at the deep end, I have found that I love teaching and I find it very rewarding when I see how my students have developed over the year.  I try to emphasise that the college experience is not only about learning technical information to enable you to become an engineer, but also about developing as a person.  During my second year of teaching I decided to undertake a Postgraduate Diploma in Third Level Teaching and Learning and successfully graduated this year.  I enjoyed my part time work when the children were very small but as they are growing up and going to school; I was keen for a new challenge.
Earlier this year, I joined a multi-national engineering company and I am a Project Manager working on a multimillion Euro project for a high tech facility here in Ireland.  The job has brought real challenges as I had little experience of working in this environment, where civil/structural engineering is really a very insignificant part of the overall fabrication facility building.  However, my attitude has always been that if you don’t know – ask and I now have a good understanding of very complicated processes.  The company encourage a work life balance and have also allowed me to continue lecturing part-time which I really enjoy.

As I review my first 20 years in industry, I realise that since the Karen Burt Award, my career has blossomed, not only in the sense of receiving promotions and climbing the career ladder, but also in terms of my self confidence and career development.  My roles have changed over the years, from being a technical engineering designer, to managing a team and being responsible for the financial performance of a company, to lecturing and now project management of a high tech industry project.  Who knows what the next 20 years will bring!

I would really encourage any young people interested in engineering as a career to take the plunge.  I continue to love what I do every day and each new project brings a new challenge.

May 2013