Structural Engineers ensure buildings are stable and safe.
A Structural Engineer ensures that buildings and other structures are safely constructed, and that they are stable and capable of withstanding the everyday forces they are subjected to, from ice and snow to heavy traffic and people.
They create all kinds of structures – houses, sports stadia, hospitals, bridges and even big wheels and roller coasters!
Like all engineers, you’ll enjoy mathematical challenges and solving problems. You will produce 3D models and often deal with complex shapes and materials.
Structural engineers are involved in the design and construction of a project from beginning to end, and work on exciting and diverse projects all over the world.
Story of a real Structural Engineer
I grew up in Mumbai, India and moved to London when I was 16 to study A levels. I attended the University of Oxford and studied physics there and later did an MSc in structural engineering at Imperial College London. I joined WSP Group as a Graduate Structural Engineer and am currently an Associate Structural Engineer.
Education – that difficult choice
It is understandably difficult to know what you want to do with your life at 16. I chose to study physics, as it excited me the most and I believe that is the best way to ensure you get a rewarding education. I was lucky that my teachers at an all-girls school were extremely encouraging about studying science; it is so important for teachers, careers advisers and role models to show young women that they can succeed in traditionally male disciplines as well.
Why I chose engineering
When we were growing up, my father encouraged us to play with lego and mechano, I’m sure that played a part in my career choice! I have always been interested in architecture and did an A-level in design & technology. I worked with mechanical engineers at Oxford University one summer and found their work really interesting (they were designing particle accelerators at CERN!). It was then I decided I wanted to be an engineer.
We shouldn’t be pressured into choosing a career too early – study a challenging but enjoyable degree, and specialise later like I did.
What I do
I work for the structures team at WSP in London. My day at work varies depending on what stage my project is at.
Initial Stages: We do a lot of conceptual design which is meeting with architects and clients to help them turn their ideas and drawings into something that will actually stand up once built.
Design Phase: We make hundreds of calculations, running computerised scenarios to test our design. This iterative process allows us to not only decide the size and strength of every column and every beam but also design a construction plan to ensure the building is safe and stable at every stage, not just when it is finished.
Team work: We work closely with a wide range of specialists to co-ordinate across everything a modern building would need (air conditioning, water supply, drainage, electrical, lifts etc).
Construction: I visit site regularly to make sure the build matches our designs and to solve the ad hoc problems that always occur as a building takes its physical form.
My projects have been varied, I designed a footbridge for Northumbria University, the iconic Shard at London Bridge, some stations and even a sculpture!
Concerns young women may have
It is indeed male dominated, only c. 8% of structural engineers are women. You don’t see many women on construction sites but that is also slowly changing.
I still get emails or letters titled ‘Mr’ and then there is a bit of a surprise when I turn up at meetings. I very often attend meetings with 15 men and most of them are also much older than me!
Construction sites can be intimidating and you might find photos of topless women in portacabins (I find it best to ignore and move on!), but generally people are friendly and respectful.
I find that people respond to the level of professionalism you show. It’s important to prepare thoroughly for every meeting, develop good relationships and ask the right questions. This helps in building up confidence.
Why YOU should do Engineering
It is such a rewarding career and develops an extensive range of skills. There are many different avenues one can follow within engineering, from being the technical ‘genius’ to the person that markets our skills and wins business for the firm. The skills are transferrable anywhere in the world, I’ve already had the opportunity to work in different countries. I can point at any building, bridge or structure that provides the backdrop to everyone’s everyday lives, that people use every day and admire, and say that this would not have been possible without Engineers.
I really enjoy my job, everyday is challenging and creative, and I don’t know many people that can genuinely say that. My favourite part is being able to point at cool buildings (like The Shard) and saying ‘I designed that’!
My thoughts on careers in Engineering
Engineering is such a fun and rewarding career. If you enjoy Maths and Physics, you should consider it. There are hundreds of different types of engineering you can look at, everything we eat, buy, our trains and cars, homes and offices would not be possible without engineers.
Try and get work experience in an engineering firm to really understand what we do daily. Speak to your teachers and career advisors to discuss your options, you can get into engineering through apprenticeships, you don’t have to have a degree.
Read books on the subject, join your local engineering institutions and link up with people on twitter (look out for me @RomaTheEngineer) and facebook who share your interest and you’ll find a huge support network that can help you reach your goal!