Name: Jen Stables
Degree and university: Civil & Structural Engineering Masters at the University of Cambridge, First two years of course general (including computing/ electronics/ mechanics/ maths & structures) then specialism in the structural side of the course through choice of modules.
Job Title: Graduate Engineer, Faber Maunsell
What do you actually do? I have been involved in one major project, one smaller project, and done a few pieces of simple design work for other jobs.
The large project is a further education college in west London. Faber Maunsell are structurally involved with the demolition and rebuild of three buildings, an extension & floor insert for an existing building, and the design of an atrium structure. When I joined the scheme design was just starting so I have been involved fully in the project and now feel like a bit of an expert! I started doing simple calculations like column takedowns and steel beam checks, moved on to ground design and slab modelling in finite element programmes, and have recently been scheming up the extension, checking column locations and being responsible for considering all details, chasing up our CAD technicians and issuing drawings. The project is now starting on site (eight months after I joined) and I should be spending some time down there checking everything is being built according to plan. On this job I am working with an Associate Director and Principal Engineer, with other Graduates and Engineers being brought in when the workload increases.
On the smaller project, I am the main engineer with just an Associate Director above me to speak to when I have any queries. The project is a villa (about the size of four large British houses) on the isle of Mustique in the Grenadines. On this project the Architects are responsible for producing all drawings, and it has been my job to check the stonework drawings for adequate reinforcement, bearing in mind this is an earthquake and tornado zone. I have also schemed, designed and had drawn-up reinforced concrete beams for the roof structure. Unfortunately, although this project is currently on site, I will not be getting a site visit!
Within the structures team in our office there are a number of graduates, and I would say my experience is by no means typical. One works on many small projects and bespoke structural details, one on high rise buildings, and one on prisons. One of the guys has spent the last week in Hong Kong working with our structures team there on a building in London, and one goes to site most weeks.
Were you always interested in Engineering as a career? I first started considering engineering when I was attending careers fairs thinking about my University possibilities. I’d chosen my A-Level subjects because they were reasonably academic and I was good at them, but if you’d asked me what career I wished to pursue just before I picked them, I would have been adamant about being a graphic designer. I was dissuaded from attempting this when I met a designer at a careers fair. Through my A-Levels I found that I actually liked the maths and physics I was doing as much as I liked the design so started to consider aiming for a degree in maths. The thing that really brought me round to engineering was my mum. She basically said she thought I was a bit of an idiot going to university for three or four years to come out not particularly qualified for any sort of specific career. Engineering had the mathematical basis I was after, but was practical and relevant to the real world. Had I decided that engineering was not the career for me during my course I would have come out with a whole set of transferable skills and easily slipped into any job in the city. Luckily (for the engineering world) I liked the course, the people and the idea of following my degree thorough.
How did you find out about this particular Course/job? Having vague inklings of what engineering was all about I signed up for an Insight course for a week at Bristol University during the summer. These courses are run to encourage women into the field and I had a great time, learnt some details of what studying engineering was like and was encouraged to apply.
In terms of my job I first heard of Faber Maunsell when in my final year at university as I started looking for a job. In the end I went to nine interviews (such a high number because all my friends who were applying to be consultants got turned down from their first 8; I got offered nine jobs). Although quite a long and unnecessary process, I felt that I found out much more about a company from a quick visit to the office than from trawling their website for hours.
Would you undertake further study to gain promotion? I’m currently on the work GUIDE scheme which has been set up to help grads progress to chartered status. It makes sure that you cover key areas of work and keep good records of what you have done. With the support of my line manager and some effort on my part I should be able to progress to Chartered Engineer status within three or four years. Before that time I expect to have been promoted though!
What do you like most about your job and are there any downsides? I like the fact that something real and solid will come about because of what I do. I like that I wake up pretty much every day looking forward to going to work because of the work I am doing and the friends that I’ve made. I feel supported and valued within my company and I like the fact that I am busy.
However, across the industry the pay is low. Like teachers, nurses and other key workers I think engineers are undervalued.
What skills do you need to succeed? You need to be organised, analytical, logical, confident, communicative and above all, willing to learn.
What advice would you give other grads entering the sector? Prepare to be confused!! From my experience, a degree in Civil/ Structural Engineering by no means prepares you to actually be an Engineer. I am using plenty of what I learnt at university and all the work I do is based on the theoretical equations I learnt to derive, but I started with pretty much no clue of the building industry, a vague awareness of the workings of beams and columns, but no idea how they fitted together. Being in an office where real structures are designed has taught me huge amounts, in the last nine months. I really do walk down the street and notice how things stand up. It’s great to feel that you know more about something than everyone else, that you can explain the mysteries they don’t understand.
Is there anything you would like to add? To be a structural engineer you really need a Masters qualification in Civil or Structural engineering. However, there are plenty of other jobs within companies like Faber Maunsell that offer great careers for geography/science and maths students in environmental sustainability sectors. If you want to work with the built environment there are many ways to do so.