A chance encounter changed Mimi-Isabella's career path towards becoming a Materials Engineer.
Tell us about your job. What do you do?
Currently, I am a Materials Engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine. I look at different materials used on the building projects that I am working on to check if they are suitable for use. Some of the materials I look at include; concrete, clay, gravels, wood and sand. The way I ensure these materials are suitable for use is to conduct laboratory experiments on them. I check the current status of the material and if it is not good enough for the project, I place recommendations to ensure it meets the standard to be used in the project. I also look at how to use waste materials in projects. Sustainability is a large part of my role, so I try to ensure materials are not wasted and will be sustainable for the future.
What does an average day look like for you?
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 life-cycle and communicate with people at all levels of the organisation. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors; highways, bridges, buildings, tunnels and airports. In my day-to-day role, I can be in 3 different working environments a laboratory, on-site or at my office. Truly no day is the same. I actively use my degree in my role especially the knowledge from the modules I enjoyed the most.
How does your work affect people’s lives and the world around us?
My work requires some research aspects. I look at new concrete technologies and suggest how these ideas can be implemented onto our sites. My role contributes to the sustainability agenda, to reduce waste and reuse as many materials as possible to protect the environment.
How did you first become interested in engineering - what or who inspired you to be an engineer?
I had dreams to become a medical professional, however, a chance encounter changed my life and career path. I used to study a science related degree at university. Through a chance encounter, I found myself in a lecture that changed my outlook of the university experience. I was invited to a lecture by a friend, without asking what course he studied, I followed him. The course was male-dominated and had only 2 women. The topic of the lecture was bridge design and construction methods. I made 3 pages of notes and started to raise my hand to ask questions. The lecturer asked to speak to me after the lecture. After 15 minutes of conversation with the lecturer and little (I like to take risks) research, I decided to transfer to the University of Portsmouth and study Civil Engineering.
Image: University of Portsmouth
There are a number of different routes you can take into a career in engineering. What route did you take (and why)?
I went to University to study Civil Engineering. I went to university because, I always wanted a degree and I knew that having a degree in Civil Engineering would open many opportunities for me.
Which of the subjects you studied at school, college or university do you use in your job?
GCSE: Maths and Physics
ALEVELs: Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Religious Studies (none of them)
Degree: Civil Engineering – I mostly use the modules “Soils and Materials”, “Construction Management” and “Structural Engineering”
Who else do you work with?
I work with various personnel of all levels in different organisations. Technicians, who complete the material testing, site managers; ensuring the successful construction of projects, engineers (structural and geotechnical), tackling the technical expertise and operatives on-site who are completing the construction works. I love working with a variety of professions as you learn a large amount from other people even if its subconsciously.
What do you like most about engineering?
The opportunity to constantly learn. Everyday on site and in my office, I learn new information practically and theoretically. You also meet a variety of people on a day-to-day basis, watching your designs come to life! Once a project is completed and is open for public use, the pride you feel that you had an input into the construction is next to none.
What are the challenges or downsides to your job?
As technology advances as Engineers we must keep up to speed! This can entail reading articles, journals and various other literature and this may change some of the methods of working that we have in place. Though, this is also exciting to be joining the industry at such a time.
What are your aims as an engineer?
I would like to be professional recognised within the Institution of Civil Engineers and become a Chartered Civil Engineer.
I would also like to raise the profile of construction materials engineering within the industry and to the younger generation, using my voice and experiences.
What opportunities are there to progress in your role or be promoted?
At my current job my manager and I are the only materials engineers in the organisation. This is great because it means there is always space for growth, much to learn and various opportunities I am open to.
Progression comes with experience and knowledge! I can gain these experiences by the multiple projects I am currently on.
Stages of progression:
Assistant Materials Engineer → Materials Engineer → Company Materials Engineer
What skills and personal qualities are important for being an engineer?
Willingness to learn, attention to detail, positivity, patience, team working skills, communication skills, leadership, analytical, creativity, interpersonal, good verbal and written communication, problem-solving, ability to work under pressure, commercial awareness and having a positive attitude.
I believe these skills will create a great engineer. These skills and qualities will allow you to be a well-rounded individual, the most important for me personally is communication skills, whether it is by completing drawings, calculations or chairing meetings with site team, good communication means that you are able to get your message across to people at all levels of the business or businesses you engage with.
If you could go back (or forward) in time and invent anything, what would it be?
I would invent the internet, the amount of people who use the internet is astronomical and it is seriously relied on in various organisations, societies and even for basic communication. The creator of the internet, what a legend.
What advice would you give a young person who was considering engineering as a future career?
Does your work overlap with other types of engineering/science/technology?
My role overlaps with, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, concrete technology and research science we work together to ensure the materials used for the various projects are suitable and sustainable as well as seeking out new innovations.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Studying Civil Engineering is a decision that I will NEVER regret. It has changed my whole life, my mindset, the way I view the world and it has made me want to explore the beautiful world we live in. I've started solo travelling and it has taken me to all corners of the earth. I love how diverse the world is, diversity is what makes us all unique. I love learning about architecture, languages, dabbling in photography and really try to engross myself into the culture of the countries I visit.
What do you want to do next in your career?
Eventually, I would love to be a Research Engineer specialising in Concrete Technology and application. I want to ensure we build for a sustainable future and I believe material engineering/science will pioneer this.