A design engineer, two project engineers and an associate director at Arup tell the Engineers Journal how the opportunity to improve the built environment inspired them to choose their careers. They share their advice for the next generation of engineers, including how keeping an open mind and being curious can help young engineers to make the most of the chances that come their way.

Claire Lambe, design engineer

Claire works in the building services industry. She joined Arup’s Cork office in 2017 after completing her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UCD and master’s degree in engineering for sustainable development at the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining Arup, Claire made history as, together with Sinead Lynch, they were the first female Irish crew to reach an Olympic A-final. Claire and Sinead finished sixth overall at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in the lightweight women’s double sculls finals. [caption id="attachment_44017" align="alignright" width="300"] Claire Lambe[/caption] Why did you decide to become an engineer? I like the variety of work that engineers can do. When I was in school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew an engineering degree would not close any doors. In the not too distant future, I hope to travel with my engineering degree. In time, my goal is to work in the transition to renewable energy sources. I want to help countries to achieve the goals they have set themselves to reach their renewable energy targets. What skills do you need to become a good engineer? Engineers are problem solvers and there is never just one solution. I think the more diversity of skills in the profession, the better. As engineers, we need to take a holistic view of the work we do. It is important to think outside the box to find new solutions to new problems. Most importantly, we need to recognise the far-reaching effects of our designs in order to ensure that we produce the greatest overall benefits. Do you think that some of your skills as an athlete have transferred across to improve your engineering? I think there are a number of skills acquired through high level sport. Balancing competing in sport with studying for an engineering degree and other commitments requires good planning and time management, resulting in excellent organisational skills. Goal setting is another vital skill for any athlete or engineer. When you set a big sporting goal to work towards, it may seem like a long way away. You learn to break it down into achievable pieces and work through each one, step by step. This is very similar to an engineering project where the final output may seem like an impossible feat; building the tallest skyscraper; designing the widest spanning bridge or achieving 100 per cent renewable energy for a city. When it is broken down into smaller achievable parts, the problems can be solved and you can work to achieve the ultimate goal. What can be done to encourage more people to explore careers in engineering? I think it is important to widen perceptions of what we think makes a good engineer. It is more than being ‘good at maths and physics’ or ‘wanting to take apart your car and rebuild it’. Engineers are instrumental in addressing the issues that we face in society. It is a job in which you can achieve great satisfaction and feel you are making a positive impact.

Sarah Ryan, project engineer

Sarah is a geotechnical engineer based in Arup’s Limerick office. She joined Arup in 2012 after completing her degree in civil engineering at UCD. Coming from a family of engineers, Sarah was inspired to become an engineer as she was excited about the prospect of improving our built environment, making it more efficient and enjoyable for all. What is your favourite thing about your job? It would have to be the variety of tasks I get to do. I am constantly being challenged with new projects that require research into topics not normally considered relevant to civil engineering, from aquaculture to different historical industries and their possible contaminants. I could be on the beach one day assessing coastal flooding with my maritime engineering colleagues, while I could spend the next day planning works within the grounds of a hospital or factory to ensure that they don’t impact on the occupants. [caption id="attachment_44018" align="alignright" width="300"] Sarah Ryan[/caption] The day to day involves planning around client needs, site visits, managing budgets and programmes, designing solutions, preparing drawings and reports and liaising with contractors. Sometimes, it can be difficult to motivate yourself as civil engineering projects can take years before the benefit is realised; but I find the best thing to do is to think about the difference we are making to people’s lives while working on projects such as flood relief schemes, new hospitals and designing safer roads. What for you are the most interesting aspects of engineering? For me as a geotechnical engineer, it is fascinating to see how the past – whether that be the ice age or the 19th century – impacts on the present. What skills do you need to become a good engineer? Patience, a positive attitude and a willingness to strive for quality. What excites you about the future of engineering? Automation of big data. We have no idea what challenges we will be able to solve in the future with the power of automation. We will be able to see patterns and trends that we never knew mattered and will be able to design solutions to problems currently thought unsolvable. What advice would you give to someone considering this job? I think the best thing to do is to shadow different types of engineers at various stages of their careers in different companies and industries. Exposure is key.

Miriam Ryan, project engineer

Miriam is a structural engineer based in Arup’s Dublin office. She completed a a structural engineering degree in DIT and went on to do a concurrent master's in sustainability, technology and innovation at DIT and Purdue University, Indiana. She is inspired by the design process through which buildings start as an idea, as a drawing on a page, and turn into something real and usable. [caption id="attachment_44019" align="alignright" width="206"] Miriam Ryan[/caption] What has surprised you the most during your career as an engineer? Two years ago, I had the opportunity to be the resident structural engineer on a new London skyscraper, the Scalpel. There were a few moments during that time when I would find myself standing on site, looking at the iconic London buildings around me, and thinking ‘how on earth did I end up part of this?’ I thought I would spend my career sitting in an office designing concrete frames. When I was younger and said I wanted to study engineering, I was told that I would just be doing maths all day. This is not the case at all. There is a certain amount of maths required, but a lot of my day is spent talking to people, figuring out how to solve problems, developing the optimal designs for clients, and planning how to deliver on a deadline. It can be varied and challenging, but it is certainly not maths all day long. Achieving gender parity in engineering is viewed as critical. Do you think women bring particular skills and insights to engineering? I have been fortunate to work with a lot of inspiring female engineers throughout my career. In my experience, I think that women bring a certain empathy to design work, allowing us to view projects from many different angles and think through designs from different perspectives. What excites you about the future of engineering? There have been so many digital advancements in recent years. I’m excited to see what the next 10 years will bring in terms of automation and the challenges we will face as we strive to solve problems we don’t even know exist yet. What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Say yes! Take the chances that come your way and don’t be afraid to give things a try. Be prepared to work hard – it will pay off when you see one of your designs working in real life.

Léan Doody, associate director

Léan is an associate director based in Arup’s Dublin office. Her primary degree is in mathematics from Trinity College Dublin. She then did a master’s degree in urban design and urban policy at the London School of Economics. She is the digital property and smart cities leader for Arup in Europe. Her work involves advising clients on the role of technology and how to implement solutions in cities, districts and buildings. She has worked on projects all over the world including London, Singapore, Dubai, Copenhagen and Sydney. What inspires you about your work? Arup’s mission is to shape a better world and we try to see how technology can be used positively in our work for clients. The way in which digital technology shapes the built environment is still developing, so we have the freedom to invent methodologies and solutions to address this. We can also look more broadly at the ethical impacts, such as effects on privacy, trust and transparency. [caption id="attachment_44020" align="alignright" width="300"] Léan Doody[/caption] How has your career differed from what you expected, particularly initially? I started working in a software company, so I would never have expected that I would now be a digital built environment consultant working on such a broad selection of global projects in this developing field. The job I have now didn’t exist when I started. What can be done to encourage more people to explore careers in STEM? Making people aware of the wide variety of careers in STEM and the different skills required would help. Initiatives such as 'I Wish' are fantastic at raising awareness of careers and encouraging girls to take science subjects. The other thing to keep in mind is that industries, jobs and roles change, so keeping an open mind and being curious will be helpful in order to make the best of new opportunities. What do you expect to be the most exciting aspect of working in smart cities over the next five years? The field is still evolving so we get to invent parts of it. I am advising a research programme in Cambridge University called 'Digital Cities for Change' to develop educational programmes for city professionals. As part of that, we will be producing new research and content to help cities make the best use of technology to solve their most pressing problems. We continue to develop new thinking through our projects.