How I discovered my amazing future in civil engineering

Added: 13th December 2019 by Atkins

My name is Imogen and I’m about to start my second year at the University of Bristol studying Civil Engineering. I have a very full university timetable with plenty of contact hours, but when I’m not working, I spend my time dancing or socialising.

Thriving on STEM subjects at school

I went to an all-girls school where we were given plenty of encouragement to study sciences. In year 11, when I chose my A-levels, I was grateful to leave behind modern languages and essay-based subjects in favour of maths, further maths, physics and chemistry. These are the subjects I am best at and enjoy the most. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I did know I wanted to go to university.

Following my heart into engineering

Being at a girls’ school from age 11, I had no idea of the gender imbalance in STEM subjects. I’m grateful, with many female STEM teachers to look up to throughout the years, that I was shielded from it. In my sixth form year group only three girls out of 70 did the same A-level options as me. Studying one or two sciences or maths was common, but for physics there were only four of us. We stuck together and encouraged and pushed each other to work hard. During the lower sixth I started thinking about what I wanted to study at university. I knew I didn’t want to study a pure science. I really enjoyed mechanics in my math and physics, and this led me to engineering, but which discipline?

Engineering work experience

Not really understanding what engineering is, or what engineers do, I thought a good place to start was getting some work experience. Over the summer after lower sixth, I organised three weeks of experience, with a firm of architects, a chemical engineering company and within the Structural Engineering team at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group.

Inspired by learning on the job at Atkins

At that time I was considering general engineering, which is offered at a few universities, but after my week with Atkins, I concluded that I wanted to study Civil Engineering. Seeing the types of projects that the Atkins engineers work on, and the tasks I was given, I enthused about Civil Engineering and met several women who inspired me to choose this degree and career. My work experience was extremely useful when writing my personal statement for university and to explain why I wanted to study Civil Engineering.

Welcomed back and valued

In the first year of my degree we studied maths, structural analysis, fluids, material properties, field methods, design and computing modules. With the 16-week long university summer holidays, I wanted to try to get a relevant job. I applied to Atkins through their website, had an interview and was thrilled to be offered a paid placement for 10 weeks, back with the London Structures team.

Solving complicated problems together

The bulk of my placement was spent working on a new passenger terminal building, with a large curved wooden roof, the profile of which is made from two hyperbolic curves and spans over 93 meters between supports. I spent time computer modelling and did calculations for the sizes of beams and columns. After only one year of university I felt I didn’t know a lot, but my supervisors didn’t expect me to do work that I would learn in future years and were always available whenever I had questions. The rest of my time I worked on the nearly completed Crossrail Farringdon Station and other small projects. There were many other placement students in the London office, and I enjoyed both organised and impromptu socialising with them and my department colleagues. The proudest moment of my placement was when the report for our passenger terminal was being finalised. With the approaching deadline we were all working late, and I really felt part of the team.

Loving the experience and passing it on

Most weeks during the school summer holiday I was mentoring 16-17-year old’s, who were in the same position that I was in two years earlier, showing them my work, helping them with their tasks and engaging in conversations about studying engineering. I hope I was able to enthuse them about going into careers in STEM and, in particular, Civil Engineering.

The experience I have gained this summer was invaluable and I hope to join the Atkins Structures team again next summer.