Case study

Structural engineer — Ioana Price

Ioana studied Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Discover how she got her job and what qualities are important in a structural engineer

How did you get your job as a structural engineer?

In my final year at university I was applying for graduate engineering programmes via relevant company websites rather than going through recruitment firms. This required more research on my end, and I learned which firms to expect a response from. I discovered small and medium-size firms are more likely to read your CV this way.

After a few interviews, assessment days, and a few rejections, I was offered a job in a medium-sized design consultancy in London where I began my career. Since then I've moved on to one of the world's biggest engineering firms and am now working on projects across the globe.

Engineering and building design is a typically male-dominated industry. Why did you decide on this career?

At school my best subject was always maths. I took pleasure in problem solving and understanding the logic behind the math.

I was also always very curious about buildings, and loved to look up whenever I visited a new place. At first, I thought about going into architecture, but then I realised that my true interest lay with understanding the physics behind how complex-seeming structures worked.

The fact that the engineering industry is mostly male-dominated never bothered me, and frankly I didn't even stop to think about it. This was what I was interested in, and what inspired me, so I went for it.

What's a typical day like as a structural engineer?

As a structural engineer you have two very well defined career options:

  • work as a site engineer, in which case you'll be based on the construction site and be responsible for the physical build
  • or be a consultant, where you'll be based in an office and prepare the designs and drawings which the contractor uses as guidance.

I am part of the latter and in the office we solve different problems every day. Usually we build 3D analytical models of our buildings, and need to fully understand how they work and how the load travels through the frame down into the ground. This part takes time to iron out, and so every day you might be developing a different area of your building.

We also need to make sure that the structural design is co-ordinated with other disciplines, such as architecture, mechanical and electrical engineering etc. Sometimes, the position of a pipe, or a big window could affect the structure and so we regularly attend meetings to resolve clashes until everything works and is fully co-ordinated.

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

Showcasing successful women engineers is key. The more we spread the word of women who've succeeded in this field, who love their jobs and are prospering as engineers, the more female students are likely to consider it as a potential career.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Collaborating with others and working together to find the best possible solution to every problem. Teamwork is at the heart of what we do.

Another big part is the reward of completing a project - it's incredibly satisfying to be able to pass by a building you designed, stop, look up and say 'I did this.'

What are the challenges?

Engineers are problem solvers, but we often need to have a few different solutions ready, in order to evaluate them and decide which one would be the best fit.

Sometimes it can be challenging to come up with multiple quality solutions to a problem, but this is something you learn with more experience on the job.

What qualities do you think are important for a structural engineer?

Aside from good technical ability, sociability is important. All projects involve working in a team. Whether you're working with people from your own company, or others - the team is always working towards a common goal and this is best achieved through collaboration.

This doesn't mean you need to be an extrovert - quite the opposite - but simply being friendly, affable and helpful will stand you in good stead for gaining a reputation as someone people want to work with.

How did you get involved with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES)?

Soon after I started working I wanted to get involved with WES, as I was very keen to be a part of some of the great initiatives that they organise and run. I became an ordinary committee member and during this time I was passionate about forming relationships with international organisations, and so I worked with the team responsible for setting up the International Women's Engineering Society for Europe (INWES Europe).

As a member of WES I like to hear about what the society is up to, and there are always lots of opportunities to get involved . Last year I became a member of WES's Climate Emergency Group and am currently working together with other women in engineering towards showcasing the great work that engineers can do in response to the climate crisis.

What advice would you give to other aspiring structural engineers?

Not to stress too much about your ability straight out of university. Nobody expects you to walk in and immediately be able to design members by yourself - you'll be given plenty of support and guidance from you colleagues.

Finally, always ask questions. It's 100% ok to not know something basic in your early career, but less so later on. Ask every question that comes to mind and your learning curve will be quick.

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