Katherine Jackson: Engineering - a passport to travel
1 March 2014
Engineering: a passport to travel
Engineering and travelling the world. Not a combination I thought possible when growing up. I guess like many young person’s idea of engineering, I thought it would solely involve getting my hands dirty, working on engines, or laying bricks….How very wrong!
Unsurprisingly, I did like LEGO growing up, building a small town in my room; though it was just a past-time, something fun. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, I didn’t like school (yet now have a Masters Degree), but I did enjoy Science, especially getting to do experiments.
At secondary school, I specifically remember the WISE bus visiting. Instead of our usual Science class, we got to visit the bus and make something. I made a doorbell, by soldering a set of components to a circuit. It was that hands-on opportunity to make something that I relished and still do.
It’s the mixture of thinking and doing that I’ve always enjoyed. I didn’t have a role model growing up, but my parents had very different interests (Dad is into Maths, Science and cars; Mum likes arts and crafts), which introduced me to the different pursuits.
So, back at secondary school, when the opportunity to enter a competition to design the extension to the CIOB Headquarters came up, it was something I was keen to be involved in. I entered with friends and having followed the brief and presented our ideas, we won. The prize was lunch aboard the QE2 and, more significantly for me, a visit to the redevelopment of the Baltic Exchange building, now 30 St Mary Axe or “the Gherkin”.
A change of direction
With WISE having reinforced my love for designing and making things, I chose to leave my all-girls secondary school after two days into starting my A-Levels and join a group of guys doing an Ordinary National Diploma in Engineering at the local college. This was a great decision, an alternative to the “typical” education, I spent my time programming computers, doing manual and computer aided design and designing, building and racing a go-kart. In doing something interesting and fun, I got great marks (through which I won the Siemens Academic Award), which allowed me to progress to study Civil Engineering at the University of Portsmouth. For me taking a subject you enjoy, improves ones chances of success, which is something I always say when attending careers fairs.
Getting paid for doing something I enjoy
I started work during my summers at University (which had the advantage of getting sponsored). Summer one, I worked for a contractor, setting out a new road for construction in Hampshire. The second and third summers I experienced working for a consultant, working on the false starting A303 Stonehenge Project. Upon graduation I continued working for the consultant (Mott MacDonald), initially as a pavement engineer (designing the road layers), where I worked on the Humber Bridge and developed a head for heights; then as a technical advisor to lenders.
As a technical advisor, I review projects and designs being undertaken to construct multi million pound projects that are paid for by banks and other lenders. As the title suggests, I review the technical, engineering elements of the project, which means I often visit some amazing construction sites, some quite regularly.
I love the travelling element of my job, although some visits are quick, I often get the opportunity to tag weekends away onto the trip. So far this engineer has travelled throughout Western Europe, Greece, and as far away as Brazil and New Zealand.
Keeping up to date with latest developments in the industry is important; this is done through Continuous Professional Development. This development is a key requirement to ensure an engineer’s knowledge is current and full, and is needed to obtain professional qualifications.
I needed site experience for my professional qualification and grasped the opportunity to work on the rehabilitation of a road, water and drainage system in the Bahamas.
An expats life
I left the UK in 2011 to begin a six-month secondment in the Bahamas. Working in a new country and experiencing a different culture was a challenge, but an amazing opportunity. At work, getting anything constructed to a schedule I anticipated from working in the UK was tough and the approach to health and safety was certainly different. The relaxed, yet friendly attitude of the workers, meant work was both frustrating and a joy.
Outside of work, there was a large, welcoming expat community and an equally hospitable local group who I became good friends with.
The six month secondment to supervise construction of 11 routes through a deprived area of the capital Nassau was extended to almost two years. The good rapport I developed with the workers and my willingness to talk to the locals and explain what was happening with the works and solve many of their minor issues, meant the Client was keen to keep me on board and I was more than happy to oblige.
The key to success, in my opinion, was due to the good communication skills I developed with the Client, Stakeholders and Public.
Pay it forward
Encouraging the next generation has always been important to me. Whilst at University, I was a Neighbourhood Engineer (now known as a STEM Ambassador) at a local secondary school. I was part of a group of engineers who organised Technology Days to showcase engineering, such as the “egg in the parachute”, “elastic band race car”, and “straw bridges”. It was such fun seeing how free-thinking minds develop workable solutions.
I attend local branch meetings, supporting the Institution of Civil Engineers and Chartered Institution of Highways and Transport, working to encourage young persons into the profession and looking at how we can support new graduates in obtaining their professional qualifications. Through this, we organise presentations, site visits and attend careers fairs.
Science and engineering has the ability to affect people’s lives and make a difference to the world in which we live. Our work is often taken for granted, but just think, in engineering terms, where would we be without roads, bridges, buildings, damns, irrigation systems, drainage, potable water, power?!
On the journey of my career to date (I am only 10 years in), I think the most significant thing I have learnt is that communication is paramount. Engineers and scientists have amazing ideas, designs, capabilities, but without the power of communication, the idea would not progress far. However we must not fall into the trap of believing others are aligned to our ideas, with the message being “Lost in translation”; as George Bernard Shaw said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
To celebrate our 30th anniversary, WISE blogs in 2014 feature women who remember WISE in the early years. Please add your comments in response to the blog below and find out more about the history of WISE.