Case study

Graduate rail engineer — Kaya Patel

Unsure what she wanted to do at school Kaya joined a mentoring scheme and decided that engineering was for her which led to her studying an Meng in Civil and Structural Engineering

Why did you decide on this career?

I had home some exposure to engineering through STEM days within my secondary school education, but realised I needed to know more about what engineering really was before I committed to it. Sensing my apprehensions, my teacher suggested I apply for an Arkwright Scholarship, a scheme which pairs students with mentors from the engineering world. After visiting a few sites and hearing more about civil engineering from my mentor and the company she worked at, I realised engineering was much more than I had initially thought and could see a real future in the field.

How did you get your job in the construction industry?

In the first two years of my studies, my university held collaboration weeks where engineers from different courses worked together to solve a real life problem as a way of showing how all our disciplines were interlinked and to provide insight into what our future careers would be like. To guide us, they invited industry representatives to help talk through our ideas. After speaking to one of the industry reps about what we were working on, I noted he was working on a project based quite near my hometown and ended up emailing him for more information on his involvement while sliding in my CV with interest in a summer internship. Thankfully, his recollection of me was positive and he decided to take me on as an intern, a role I also filled the following year. One formal interview process later and I began my role as graduate engineer in September 2019.

What more can be done to increase female representation in engineering?

I truly believe in the power of STEM education from a young age. So many jobs in STEM aren’t normally jobs you visibly see as a child within day to day life but they are so vital for shaping the society we know. If you think about it, pretty much anything you look at that has been created by humans has had the involvement of an engineer. By exposing kids and young adults to the roles of engineers within our society, we highlight their importance but also give a glimpse into a vast industry with countless opportunities.

What's a typical day like as a consulting civil engineer?

A typical working day involves:

  • calculations and structural modelling
  • coordinating with my immediate team to balance workloads and offer help where required
  • communicating with all other disciplines involved in the project to make sure they are on target and make sure our work is aligned
  • talking to clients to keep them informed of progress
  • undertaking general project management tasks such as keeping an eye on budgets, helping look for potential new opportunities, and making sure everyone is happy.

Surprising to most people's views on engineers, I spend most of my day talking to people and collaborating on work rather than solo working. Teamwork is so important in everything we do and it's only until I started in the industry did it become apparent that this would be the driving factor in all my activities.

What qualities do you think are important for a consulting civil engineer?

  • Communication - Being able to effectively translate your ideas and thoughts to your team is the most important trait for an engineer. Making sure others can see your ideas allows for them to be developed and enhanced by other people's thinking, which is when you get the best outcomes.
  • Creativity and problem solving - Although there are guidelines for how engineers should design, you need to be able to think outside the box and find the best solution for the task at hand. Just because something was the best solution last time, doesn't mean it's the best solution now.
  • Critical thinking and reasoning - Being able to critique and understand the reasoning behind your decisions as an engineer is key when designing. The guidelines are there to help, but if you can't justify your design choices, it normally indicates you don't understand why you’ve made them, which is never good. 

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

My favourite aspect is seeing all the different parts of a project come together at the end for it to be submitted to a client as it's only then you really appreciate the sheer co-ordination and teamwork that goes into every project. That feeling of pride when you can submit something you have seen grow from an idea in a meeting to a full-blown bridge is second to none.  

As a woman in engineering what challenges have you faced?

Even though the industry has improved massively, I do notice when I am the only female in a meeting and can find that fact intimidating at times. However, I try to remember that the reason I am sitting at that table is because of my own merit, and that I need to hold my own because my opinion and ideas are valid and wanted.

I've also had the odd situation when group emails that have been sent to me have been addressed to the 'gents' or the site lead refers to the 'boys' even when I’m part of a group. I think this is more a habit than ignorant undertones but nevertheless, I always make sure to correct them, or the situation never changes.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree taught me the fundamentals for the technical aspect of my role. There are too many variables in civil engineering for a university to cover everything, but what was taught to me has put me in good stead in my decisions as a practicing engineer. All the group projects and engineering workshops prepped me perfectly for a life of team collaboration, improving my communication skills when conveying ideas to people from technical backgrounds but also people completely outside the industry.

How did you get involved with the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and how have they supported you?

I few months after I joined Ramboll I got invited to join WES by another graduate as she though it would be a good way to meet other people outside my immediate team/projects and give me the chance to hear some of the amazing work other women do within our industry to inspire my own journey. I have been able to hear numerous testimonies of brilliant female engineers from all areas of engineering and the impact they are having in shaping society in line for a better future for all. Having not typically seen as much female representation within the industry, to hear so much of the great work women are involved in is really empowering for what I want to do with my career and the places it can take me.

Tell us about your role as vice-chair representative for the ICE London Graduates and Student (G&S) Committee…

I attended their AGM in the first month of me starting my job with Ramboll and they needed someone to fill the role aimed at encouraging STEM activities which was already something I was keen on getting involved with and thought this would be a great way to facilitate it. After joining the committee, I became more involved with all the great work they do in helping progress the development of civil engineering students, graduates and apprentices in London while making some great friendships along the way. Last year I ran for vice-chair, which involves coordinating the membership sub-committee and managing our outreach efforts into getting more people involved with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and supporting them on their paths to achieve their accreditations within the industry.

My favourite part of the committee has been talking to people from different aspects of the industry going through a very similar journey to me, but also people who are in completely different stages of their journeys and sharing my own experience while gaining knowledge from theirs.

What are your career ambitions?

In the short term my biggest goal is to become a chartered engineer with the Institution of Civil Engineering and to continue my journey to a well-rounded career. In the long term, I would love to be able to point to a building or bridge and say to someone 'Hey, I helped design that'. The one great thing about civil engineering is that you get to see the things you have been working on spring to life in the real world.

What advice can you give to other aspiring females engineers?

Believe that the work you do can make a difference because it will. Engineering only progresses through the introduction of new ideas and innovations, and these can come from anyone including yourself.  

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