Please tell us a little bit about yourself..
I did a 3-week work experience in an engineering firm when I was at secondary school. It was such an eye-opening experience – I learned about highways, bridges, drainage, traffic calming measures and met some fantastic engineers who inspired me to pursue a career in this field. I went on to study Computer and Communication Systems Engineering at university and joined Arup after my graduation. My first major project was Bank Station Systems Integration and Upgrade. I worked there as a communication systems designer at the Concept Design stage. I learned about the different station alarm systems and what operators do on a daily basis to maintain a safe station. While we were working in a co-located office at 55 Broadway, I had a lot of direct interactions with the clients and met many people outside of the project. Everyone I met at London Underground was so passionate and proud of what they do – it was very inspiring. At the Detailed Design and Build stage of the project, I was seconded to London Underground as their Assistant Project Engineer. I was there for about 2.5 years. It was fascinating to see the project from both sides of the fence! It was a really complex project, not only from systems design’s perspective, but also from operational and maintenance perspective. There were multiple projects happening at Bank Station at around the same time, so coordination with a long list of stakeholders was part of the “typical” day. I am currently on an assignment in Arup’s Toronto office working on the new Light Rail Transit Line in Edmonton, Canada.
What in rail are you passionate about?
As engineers, we always look for meaning in the work we do. Rail touches so many people’s lives on a daily basis. I am really passionate about the difference we can make to improve the quality of life for potentially millions of people: the passengers, the operators, local businesses and of course, the rail enthusiasts who just love to take pictures of the trains and stations! When someone comments on how easy it is to use the new system or on how it makes their commute faster and therefore enables them to spend more time with family and friends, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging and rewarding?
The biggest challenge on a project is trying to get the operators to articulate their concept of operations and its variances under different scenarios. Our role is to guide them to the best system for them given the constraints. Operators sometimes know very clearly what they do not want out of a system, but not necessarily what they do want and it is important to take the time to really understand the user needs and requirements and the reason why a system or a functionality has been asked for, in order to make recommendations. It is particularly rewarding to see the faces of enlightenment when the operators realise the potential of the new systems and how their operations can be more efficient and streamlined.
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years’ time?
I would still like to be involved in the rail industry! I want to learn more about the railway and expand my experience. Gaining knowledge from other sectors would also be very helpful to identify the technological innovations that can potentially be transferred to rail. I think there is a lot of potential for horizontal innovation. For instance, virtual reality from the gaming industry has been used in railway performance simulation for some time, what other technologies could we transfer or adapt to respond to the challenges in the rail industry? Similarly, what innovations have we got that can help others? I think this is an area that is worth exploring.
What has been your colleagues’ reaction to you being voted one of the 20 rising stars of rail?
Very positive! I have received many lovely messages from colleagues saying how proud they were and many young female engineers have approached me and asked about my projects and experiences. I do hope that I have convinced them it is fun to work in rail!
What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and attract more women within the sector?
The rail industry is becoming more and more innovative and dynamic – consider driverless trains, inspection and maintenance robotic crew, just to name a few. With so much current focus on the total integrated journey, artificial intelligence and robust communication network are at the core of what it takes to make that happens seamlessly – from presenting passengers with the information they need when they need it, to using data analytics to enable better decision making. We are also seeing advances in 3D printing, alternative energy sources and in materials science for smart window glazing, not to mention the efforts in making Hyperloop a reality! All of these are happening right now and have something to do with rail. So I think there are two messages that we need to share in order to attract talents: first, there are many different ways (some are less obvious than others) to join and contribute to the rail industry and there really is something for everyone; second, it is an innovative and dynamic industry, we will be doing exciting things in the future but we are also doing them right at this moment.
What would be your advice to young women entering the industry?
Enjoy it, get stuck in and encourage others to do the same! It is a very exciting industry to be a part of right now – we have got Crossrail and HS2 in the UK for example and there is so much work ahead of us, which means a lot of room for innovative thinking.
What are your interests outside of rail?
I am interested in architecture, music and dance. I also volunteer a lot – it is a great way to meet new people and learn new things. I recently helped out in one of the coding workshops aimed at school children. The kids’ enthusiasm and eagerness to learn were really inspiring and of course, they are also very good at asking tough questions!
Interviewed August 2017