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How I became a civil engineer

Written by Mimi Nwosu

I started my A-levels with high hopes of becoming a medical professional. A-levels were the hardest period of my education and I didn't actually meet the grade requirements to study the course I wanted. I was desperate to go to university so I studied a science course I had ZERO interest in. After a few months, I knew the course wasn't for me and started looking at alternatives, I considered dropping out completely.

Through a chance encounter, I found myself in a lecture that changed the outlook of my university experience. I was invited to a lecture by a friend, without asking what course he studied, I followed him.

What course is this and where are the women?

I made 3 pages of notes and started to raise my hand to ask questions. The lecturer asked if I had knowledge of Civil Engineering and after a brief conversation with him and little (I like to take risks) research, I decided to transfer to the University of Portsmouth and study Civil Engineering. I was worried, as I didn’t have the prerequisite A-level subjects (Maths and Physics) to study Civil Engineering, but I was very determined to achieve the best results and challenge myself. I appreciated the university’s faith in me.

You don’t know your industry unless you have worked in it.

I completed a 16-month placement with a global construction management firm in central London. My title was Undergraduate Engineer and I worked in a multidisciplinary team of 50 and over 100 subcontractors onsite. My role included design management, ensuring all works met deadlines and were in budget. I never thought of the processes within construction because I only saw the finished product.

I loved being "behind-the-scenes" of constructing some of the most iconic structures in London.

I enjoyed working with various personnel and having variety in my tasks. The pressure of meeting deadlines and changing my mindset from a student to a working professional kept me on my toes, allowed me to develop my skills and showed me the practical application of my degree. This experience would later allow me to complete my studies and prepare me for my future career.

I completed my year in the industry and felt more than prepared to finish my degree. My favourite module at university was 'Soils and Materials', I have always been interested in sustainable development and wanted to design and build for a better future - I knew material science would pioneer this!

For my final year project, I explored concrete technology and fire engineering. I completed a 15,000-word dissertation and a laboratory experiment titled: "Investigating the mechanical properties of Ultra-high-performance fibre reinforced concrete (UHPFRC) at elevated temperatures" (a mouthful I know!)

I achieved a first-class for my project and I fell in love with concrete technology and its complexities and decided I wanted to become a Concrete Engineer.

Applying for Graduate Jobs

During my final year, I started to apply for graduate roles. I felt that my year in industry had put me at a great advantage as I had relevant experience as well as 4-years’ experience in the retail environment. I was invited to numerous interviews and assessment centres; I was able to confidently talk about my experiences. I was offered 5 jobs before graduation; this gave me the freedom to fully focus on my degree.

I graduated from university in 2018 with an upper second class (2:1) and accepted a role as a Graduate Highways Engineer for a global engineering consultancy. I was able to improve upon my communication, technical, AutoCAD, and leadership skills.

However, I knew that I wanted a career in Concrete Engineering and after some research, I found the role I had been looking for.

I am now an Assistant Materials Engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine

In my role, I assist projects in the UK by reviewing their concrete specifications, managing materials testing, site investigations and liaising with various departments. My role allows me to see the whole project lifecycle and communicate with people at all levels of the organisation. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors, highways, bridges, buildings, tunnels and airports.

I love using my voice and experiences to encourage the younger generation to consider a career in construction.

Currently, I am a STEM Ambassador, a role model/mentor/volunteer and I have spoken to over 2000 students and graduates, and have recently started collaborating with various organisations, using my platform on Instagram to share posts/stories/videos about my day-to-day in the construction industry.

I have been named as 'Top 500 most inspiring and influential people in the UK's construction industry' at The London Build Expo 2019, second runner up in the Women in Construction February Awards by Design and Build UK for February 2020, a finalist in the Engineering Graduate of the Year awards 2020 hosted by Equal Engineers and winner of the Rising Star Award at Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) 2020.

My advice to individuals wanting to join the industry:

● Do your research (degree, apprenticeship, degree apprenticeship) ● Know your industry (current affairs, new technology) ● Expand your network (LinkedIn, networking events) ● Grasp all opportunities - Also create your opportunities, a wise person once said to me “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. ● Set goals, however, don’t be too hard on yourself. ● Gain experience within your field (a year in industry, internships, work experience) ● Attend external conferences and lecturers on topics that interest you ● Keep your CV and cover letter updated (all experiences are valid) ● Be bold, be brave! ● It is ok to fail; failure could be the start of a new adventure

You can read more about Mimi on her Linkedin page Follow Mimi on Instagram

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