Jennifer Sampson: You never know how it might turn out until you try!
2 May 2013
I had already chosen to study History, English and French at A-Level when I was one of a group of Fifth Formers taken along to a careers fair in Leeds where, by chance, I got chatting to a chemical engineer. Despite my own father teaching me physics, the idea of a scientific career had never crossed my mind as it never felt like my strong suit. On talking to this engineer it became apparent that engineering is not just about maths and theories, but enables many things in our everyday lives. It has to be said that for most people the word ‘Engineering’ may well conjure up images of old men in backroom offices with coffee-stained ties from the seventies, but in reality the profession attracts many dynamic and creative people, with a passion for design and innovation, helping to improve and save thousands of lives everyday. Far from operating in a dull workplace, engineers often have the opportunity to travel all over the world in pursuit of a vast array of different projects. I returned to college, completely hooked on the idea, changed my A-Level choices, and applied to engineering courses at University. I’m pleased to say I’ve never looked back.
My 5 year undergraduate masters degree at Edinburgh University involved all manner of courses from structural dynamics and earthquake engineering to water and waste water treatment. Although it was hard work and long hours compared to many fellow students, it was thoroughly rewarding. The best thing about engineering for me is that even though I’m classed as a civil engineer the work is so diverse, it requires a great deal of communication with lots of people from a range of different professional backgrounds, and the job satisfaction when you see a project completed is fantastic. Of course there have been boring bits, but what has been most important to me is that I can see a purpose to my work.
I graduated with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Edinburgh in June 2010, and promptly left the country the following day for eight weeks of travelling in South America. Some might say that is a drastic way to deal with the trauma of leaving University and the prospect of facing the real world!
I have been working for the engineering consultancy Atkins ever since I got back, where I am a member of the Rivers and Coastal department. The work that our team does ranges from ports and maritime to feasibility studies for potential flood defence schemes. Within three years I have already been lucky enough to get to design hydraulic structures and fish passes from a cosy office, spend six months supervising construction by a riverbank, assist dusk and dawn bat and water vole surveys, and am now starting to get involved in some really interesting international work.
I still count myself so lucky that I met that engineer for the ten minute conversation that let me see so many opportunities. Ever since I’ve tried to not let fear or worry dissuade me from giving something a go – you never know how it might turn out until you try!