What has been your career journey so far?
I studied civil and structural engineering at Masters’ level at the University of Leeds. I was encouraged to look into this field by my mum. I was not sure what I wanted to do at school but, based on my favourite subjects at A-Level, my mum suggested I go into engineering. I joined Atkins as a summer student after my third year at university. I spent 12 weeks there and really enjoyed it. I went back to university for my final year and was invited back to join Atkins at the end of that year. The culture of Atkins is really nice: the people you meet, the rail industry and the clients. I joined as a graduate and am now an assistant civil engineer. I love it!
Please describe your current role?
I am based in York. My role is very varied which is fascinating. I undertake optioneering exercises (for example, we are planning to install a second track on a one-track route where there is a 3 arch underbridge, my role is to come up with options for doing so). I have to come up with ideas of where platforms should be built (including what needs to be removed, how to ensure accessibility and generally the location and infrastructure of the platform). I undertake calculations for underbridge assessments (to check the capacity and strength of the structure if there is an increase in line speed, extra trains or track requirements, to make sure the bridge can support the increased loadings). I have been a Project Manager for a structures review project and have dealt with clients, budgets and delegation. These experiences have taught me how to approach project work and the importance of regular updates and delivering on time. I have also been an assistant to a few senior members of staff in Atkins, which has given me the opportunity to understand things from a business perspective. This includes how knowledge is shared, what other teams are working on and how we can develop as a group. In addition, I have had a lot of exposure to different clients which has improved my confidence, collaboration and communication skills. I am learning so much it is really motivating!
Why the railway industry?
After my first year at university, I did a placement in another sector but I did not enjoy it at all! Once I had experienced it at Atkins and understood how fascinating the rail sector is, I could not think of another industry to work in! I find it fascinating how everything works and links together. I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of the interface between the various disciplines, the infrastructure, the roads, the public and how they integrate with civil engineering. It is like a giant puzzle where all the pieces come together through team work. It is a truly amazing industry to work in.
What motivates you to put forward your greatest effort?
If I put my name to something, I want it to be the best it can be. I like to please people and I love to pass on my skills and knowledge to others. I love to invite people to look at things which integrate with each other in an unusual or new way. It makes me feel good to know I have contributed to rail projects and played a part in improving the rail infrastructure. I love making a difference, professionally and personally.
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging and rewarding?
Every new task I am given is challenging because I want to do my best and if I haven’t done before, it is always a little bit daunting, but I always find a solution and later wonder what I was worried about in the first place! My job can be exceptionally rewarding and a good example of this was acting as Project Manager for a structures review project. We worked hard as a team. The project was completed successfully, which was great, but what was truly rewarding was seeing the project nominated for an internal Atkins award – it was really amazing to get acknowledgement for our hard work as a team.
What do you like the most about your job?
The variety of the work I do. No day is the same. And neither are the people. We all work as a team. The rail industry is a close network – you bump into the same people on different projects and everyone is always very helpful, which makes it easier to collaborate and get the job done well. There is also a good support network. I am currently working towards my Chartership accreditation with the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), which I am planning to achieve it within the next five years. Atkins is really supportive.
What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and attract more women within the rail sector?
There are quite a lot of good initiatives already in place: Women in Rail, Women in Engineering, Rail Week and they should continue. There is however still a lack of awareness and many misconceptions about what it means to be an engineer in rail: you must have a mathematical background, of course, yet it is also really important to have creativity. Targeting Sixth Formers is a great way to raise awareness of rail. The 20 Rising Stars Survey is a very positive initiative which hopefully will raise awareness of the support currently available to women entering the rail industry.
How can you use your influence to drive change for gender equality in the rail industry?
I give presentations in schools and talk about engineering to help the younger generation understand what it is all about and how fascinating it is. I feel it is important to show my face because I’m female. I also took part in Women in Engineering day and ran a Lego challenge, targeting 16 year olds. It was a nice challenge to build a tower for the lowest ‘cost’ and at the end we had discussions in smaller all-female groups, which encouraged the students to ask questions. I have undertaken mock interviews and been a ‘CEO’ for a group of students for Industry Day, which was really fun. I enjoyed sharing my experiences with them while helping with the task. Formal presentations to large audiences are difficult to get interaction but the smaller group work gets much better involvement. I try to be visible in the company as well. I was involved in the Bring Your Daughter To Work initiative, helping to run a workshop for the daughters of employees in the office. We asked young girls to draw an engineer and it was interesting as often they drew their dad!
Interviewed August 2017