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Case studies

Describe what you currently do?

I’ve just completed my Masters in Biomedical Engineering with UCD and I’ve decided to take a gap year before applying for an engineering job in Ireland. I’m heading off travelling in a few weeks’ time and plan to go to Nepal, India and New Zealand. I plan to come home next September and start the job hunt then!

What motivated you to study engineering?

It’s hard to know really. Engineering wasn’t offered as a subject in my secondary school and I didn’t really know much about it until Transition Year when I did a week long course in UCD. Coming up to the Leaving Cert I still thought I wanted to study Medicine. I listed Engineering after Medicine on my CAO as it still appealed to me after the TY course I had taken. I missed out on Medicine by two points, so I started in first year engineering in UCD. As I was so close, I reapplied for Medicine the following year, and was offered a place but at that stage I felt that Engineering was right for me so I stayed put and I have absolutely no regrets!

What qualities do you think makes a good engineer?

Natural curiosity comes to mind first! I think if you are someone who questions the way we do something or how something works you will make a good engineer. A general desire to learn is critical! Also, the ability to work as part of a team. In any engineering career, you will be working with people from a range of disciplines and backgrounds. In college, most modules involved some sort of group project and we had to learn how to organise ourselves and be efficient. At times it could be difficult if someone is not pulling their weight and letting the team down but all of these things actually improve your skills over time!

What's the best thing about engineering?

Engineering can lead to such a variety of career paths and that is what makes it appeal to me the most.  Students in my engineering class are taking jobs in industries such as Pharmaceuticals, IT, Automotive, Construction and Financial Consulting to name just a few, and it is likely that we may change industries during our careers too!


Engineers Ireland - STEPS
Anne Heery
Engineering student specialising in biomedical engineeing

What does engineering mean to you?

Engineering to me is problem solving. You need to be creative while also being logical – it’s a nice mix.

What's the best thing about being an engineer?

Having the skills to be able to design and make fun stuff.

What are you working on right now?

I look at ways of reducing the vibrations as rockets take off for the European Space Agency. I lecture, research and generally mess about with cool stuff.

What's the best project you've ever worked on?

I worked on controlling a new flexible robotic arm being designed for a European Mars rover. I made models of how the arm would move and worked on what is known as a 'control system', which is basically figuring out how to make the arm move about the way you want it to.

What was college life like?

College life is great; there is a much greater freedom to express yourself there than in school. I studied mechanical engineering in UCD, loved it, and the social life is as important as the academic part. I played soccer and did a lot of rock climbing during my undergrad. I still have lots of good friends from my time in college.

What advice would you give someone who's thinking of studying engineering?

Talk to people who are studying it or have studied it. Ask them lots of questions, see if it's for you.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I still play soccer for my local team and I run a lot of engineering/science outreach events, like Dublin Maker (see image) and Science Hack Day Dublin. These are events that get people making things and being creative, the fun parts of engineering.

Engineers Ireland - STEPS
Dave McKeown
Rocket engineer specialising in mechanical engineeing, working at University College Dublin

What kind of person makes a good engineer?

Someone who uses logical thinking to solve problems.

What's the best thing about being an engineer?

As a process engineer, I can either design pharmaceutical equipment in the office or test equipment on site. The best thing with both is job satisfaction. I individually contribute to producing the drug that people get in the pharmacy by either producing a design that meets international standards or ensuring the equipment works as it's supposed to.

Describe your current role?

The best way to describe my job is that I work with equipment that directly impacts pharmaceutical products. Using a hospital injection as an example, I can produce the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) through a number of chemical processes, fill the API into the injection vial, or produce the water that dilutes the API. All aspects of my job ensure that the same injection is produced every time and that patient safety is never jeopardised.

Why did you choose to study engineering?

Maths and chemistry were my favourite subjects in school so my dad suggested chemical engineering as a career.
Even though I liked these subjects, I still had to put in the time with them. The main difference to other subjects was that I wasn’t afraid of the challenge, whereas I found languages more of a struggle.

What advice would you give someone who's thinking of studying engineering?

Engineering is a very diverse career, with so many opportunities. You can work in an office or travel around the world. Growing up fixing things is not what every engineer is about but an enjoyment of problem solving is key.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I work as a make-up artist/beautician in my spare time. I always had a passion for this and didn't let working full time as an engineer stop me from pursuing other interests. I love both jobs.

Engineers Ireland - STEPS
Justine Butler
Chartered chemical engineer working in chemical and process engineering at DPS engineering

Why did you choose to study engineering?

As a kid, I really enjoyed building things with my hands – model-making, K’NEX, LEGO, etc. – and I was good with numbers. Engineering seemed like a way to combine both of these things into something genuinely interesting and important. With so many different streams of engineering to begin with, I knew I’d have a chance to figure out what I enjoyed the most.

Describe your current role?

I’m a design engineer in the Bridges and Civil Structures department at Arup. Basically, we are the structural engineers who don’t design buildings! Our work ranges from the design of structures to analysing damaged bridges to research to choosing the route of highway schemes. As a design engineer, I tend to be heavily involved in the more technical aspects of work so that I can develop my technical design skills. 

What projects are you working on right now?

I’ve started working on a new design for motorway crash barriers that will hopefully reduce road-users’ fatalities in the long term. Once finished, the design will become the new national standard design for all of Ireland. What’s the best thing about being an engineer? My favourite thing about being an engineer is the variety of work we do. I hate the idea of having a 40-year career where every day I go to work and do the same thing! Projects only ever last a couple of years and your role in each project changes, which keeps every day different and interesting.

What was college life like?

Busy! Life as a student engineer can get a bit hectic and you’re constantly juggling assignment deadlines for different classes. A big surprise for me was how much group work there was, which was good because I’m definitely a people person. Having lots of classes didn’t really bother me either, because it meant less time sitting by myself in the library!

What advice would you give someone who's thinking of studying engineering?

Don’t be put off if maths isn’t necessarily your favourite subject – it doesn’t have to be. So much of studying engineering is about your ability to understand problems and how they can be solved. Equally, if you really enjoy maths, some streams of engineering are heavily computational and always attract people who are good at maths. What a lot of people don’t realise is that a degree in engineering leaves them open to become anything they want, not just an engineer!

Engineers Ireland - STEPS
Nathan Maxwell
Background in civil engineering now working as a design engineer at Arup

Can you tell us a bit about your unconventional career path, past experience and how it has led to where you are?

Engineering was not an obvious choice. Outside of school I danced as much as possible, and one day, I tried aerial circus to build up my strength and it only took one class to make me obsessed. I trained as much as I could and after some encouragement from a teacher, I found myself in Belfast, fresh out of Leaving Cert, training with their youth circus. From there I went to London to study full time, and then to Rio de Janeiro!

How did you adjust to such a big move?

Honestly, I have no idea! I touched down in Rio without a word of Portuguese, completely on my own, with just an address on a piece of paper. I enrolled in the National Circus School and studied circus arts - all through Portuguese. But over time, I realised that being a circus performer wasn’t me. The training was so physically and mentally draining that I didn’t have the energy to do anything except train and sleep. As I was having doubts, I noticed that to make a truly ground-breaking show of any kind: circus, dance or theatre - takes innovation of technology and infrastructure. It occurred to me that a performer is only as good as the show they are in and I wanted to have more freedom to expand what is possible

Why did you chose to study engineering?

I want to invent apparatus that’s never been seen before; figure out how and if it will work; then get a team and build it with them. Studying engineering is like studying life, in the sense that it can be anything and bring you anywhere you want. There are engineers in literally every industry you can think of, doing all kinds of cool stuff. I chose engineering to give me the knowledge and credibility so that people will trust me with lots of money to build shows that are different to anything that’s out there right now. Or at least that’s the dream!

What advice about engineering would you give to students who are considering their career?

Do it!! Seriously though, I always say engineering should be the new arts degree - if you’re not sure what you want, engineering is about as general as you can get, so don’t take it at face value! It’s not all office jobs and suits and designing heating systems for apartment blocks. It can be if you want, but it can also be anything and everything else. Look at me - I’m going to go and build circus shows!


Engineers Ireland - STEPS
Viva Ferguson
Engineering student who worked as a circus performer