Name: Katie Symons
Degree and University: Cambridge University: General Engineering, specialising in civil & structural in the final 2 years
Work Title: Structural Design Engineer, Ramboll Whitbybird
What do you actually do? I typically fulfil a project engineer role for projects ranging in value from £4m – £20m. I have responsibility for delivering the structural design. This involves working with architects at the early stage of a project, to ensure the outline design of the building has a sensible and economic structural frame, developing this design in the detailed stage, doing structural calculations and working with CAD technicians to produce drawings, then finally supervise work on site, sorting out problems as they arise, and ensuring the structure is constructed using the correct procedures.
Were you always interested in engineering as a career? No, I wanted to be a musician when I was at primary school! But at secondary school, I realised I enjoyed maths and science, and I wanted to apply what I learned in those subjects to doing useful things and changing the world. Engineering seemed to offer that opportunity.
How did you find out about this particular career? I was encouraged to learn more about engineering when I was at school, and went on a course to encourage girls to consider engineering as a career. I’ve always been interested in buildings and structures, and during my degree I decided that was the area in which I wanted to work. I found out about my employer, Ramboll Whitbybird, by looking for structural engineering firms that had an office in Cambridge, where I lived. I did a summer placement in the office and then accepted a job with them after I graduated.
Would you undertake further study to progress your carer? Possibly – there are loads of areas in which fascinating research is going on: I am particularly interested in issues of sustainability in the built environment, and there is the possibility of doing an MPhil in this area.
What do you most like about your job and are there any downsides? Seeing a building I’ve designed being built and finally being used is great. The environment can be intense, with pressure to meet deadlines in a very competitive market. The hours can be long too. But it’s usually worth it for the sense of achievement at the end!
What skills do you think you need to succeed? The ability to think quickly, methodically, and clearly is very important. A good understanding of the theoretical and practical sides of structural engineering is also useful. Good communication skills are vital, to work effectively with architects and other members of a project team. Time management is very useful, and if it isn’t a skill initially, you get plenty of opportunity to practice it.
What advice would you give graduates entering this sector? Try to find out more about the built environment and construction – there are lots of great projects in the UK: Heathrow T5, the Olympics, lots of high rise offices in London and other cities. Think about how they stand up and next time you go into a building, look for the structural elements. Maths and physics are mandatory subjects for most civil engineering courses and a good grounding in these subjects is very important.
Is there anything you would like to add? Structural engineering is a very rewarding profession and offers the opportunity to make very visible changes to the world, and reduce the environmental impact of our activities.