Please tell us about your background..
I grew up in Canterbury and went to a state grammar school. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I took a diverse range of subjects at AS level, from maths and physics to Spanish and English literature. Luckily, the school had a significant amount of extra-curricular activities which enabled me to gain a broader understanding of the various career options available to me. This inspired me to take a STEM focused route.
What has been your career journey so far?
I graduated in 2014 from Durham University with a Masters in Physics and initially started working in the oil and gas industry. I had been in my role for about 1 year when oil and gas started going through a down turn. However, I had already decided that I wanted to do something more project focused. I didn’t want to be office bound. I thought the engineering industry would be a good choice. I successfully applied for the Colas Rail future leaders programme. It comprises of 3 rotations. I am on my last one. During the first rotation, I worked on track renewals. It was a great introduction to the industry as I was given a fair bit of responsibility. My second rotation was onto plain line. Instead of doing track renewals over complex junctions, I was dealing with a straight track. It is easy to assume that this type of work is less complicated, however it is a relentlessly challenging and dynamic environment. My third rotation is working out of Euston station. I am part of the electrification team. This is a project associated with HS2 and is network enabling works. This rotation is the most complex and enjoyable.
Please tell us about your current role?
I work as the project lead for track, drainage and overhead lines as part of the enabling works for HS2. This is about moving the existing infrastructure out of the way to make place for the new one. The project is currently in the development stage for phase 2. I work with another project manager and experienced CREs (certified engineers) who bring the technical expertise. I report to the production Manager, alongside my peer project manager and the functions and have 2 people reporting to me.
What in rail are you passionate about?
Rail is an interesting industry. It has shaped our country and continues to do so. It is not just a transport network. It has huge social aspects which means a lot to me. It is also a really rewarding place to work: it is very satisfying completing the job well, especially under high pressure. I come from sporting background where I competed at high level. There are a lot of similarities with the type of pressure you experience when working in rail.
What motivates you to put forward your greatest effort?
The knowledge that we are making a positive difference to the general public. Oil and gas didn’t sit well with me from an ethical perspective, whereas the focus in rail is much more oriented towards the society’s well-being. Getting rid of diesel trains and electrification sits much better!
What has been your biggest success to date?
One experience stands out for me personally. We were working on site on a Saturday and were taking out a level crossing. We had to make the whole area inaccessible to vehicles. We had made special provisions to cut off access to about 100 houses over the weekend. We had done as much as we could to notify residents well in advance but we were aware that, inevitably, some people would have missed the notices. On the Saturday morning, when people woke up and realised the impact our weekend work would have on them, some got really agitated and I had to deal with the situation and calm them down. I had to make adjustments based on the construction programme and timetable so as to let some of them go through. A few weeks later, we received a handwritten letter from a member of the public thanking me for the way I had handled the situation.
What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and/or attract more women to the sector?
Rail is engineering dominated and the uptake for women is not high. We need to continue to promote STEM at schools, focus on women and ensure we have a presence at career fairs. Engaging with the schools is very important. We have to raise awareness about the careers the industry has to offer.
What message would you have to encourage girls to join the industry?
Rail is an exciting, dynamic and challenging industry with a great social aspect as railway projects have such a positive impact on the country socially. It is a constantly changing and developing environment, both in terms of the variety of projects and the technology. I am constantly learning new things and I think that will continue throughout my career. You also get the chance to work with experienced staff who are really happy to share knowledge and experience.
How will you reach out to young girls to encourage them into the railway?
I buddy two graduates and supports them. I have attended career fairs and will continue to do so. I am also looking to get more involved with schools and STEM days. I want to be more involved in the work of Women in Rail.
Do you have a role model and, if so, who and why?
Within rail, not one person. There are many role models around me in senior roles with qualities that I would hope to emulate. Outside of rail, Catherine Grainger. She set herself a goal, winning the Olympic gold medal and she achieved it. Olympic rowing is a tough sport and her success is phenomenal.
What are your interests/hobbies outside of rail?
I did a lot of sport at school and university. I ran the Edinburgh marathon last year and have entered the London marathon next year. More recently, I have taken up Ceroc dancing! It is partner dancing akin to modern jive. I discovered it via my mum and have been doing it about 1.5 years. I love it!
Interviewed August 2017