Throughout my final years of school I was always asked what I wanted to do with my life and my honest answer at the time was ‘absolutely no idea’. I was good at technical subjects like maths and chemistry, but I was also creative and didn’t want to choose one or the other. It wasn’t until I was already at university, completely lost studying architecture then maths that I found out about engineering. I started again and changed my degree to civil engineering and can now honestly say it’s what I want to do with my life. I really believe that one of the main reasons females are underrepresented in STEM subjects is because we are not made aware of the opportunities available to us. I had no idea what engineering was and I had no idea of the different paths my life could take if I studied it at university. This is where Equate Scotland and projects like Careerwise are so important. These projects encourage us to explore all opportunities and to be confident in joining what is at the moment a male dominated area.
I first applied for a Careerwise placement during my second year at university; I originally applied to find out more and gain experience for future years and was surprised when I made it through the process. Although I never received my first choice placement, I interviewed well and the company referred me to a different department who were also looking for an intern. I spent my first summer at CH2M in Transportation in the Performance Audit Group. Throughout the summer I learnt about, maintenance, engineering contracts and environmental best practice. Auditing and monitoring is an area I have never experienced at university; I was given the chance to visit outside agencies and report to Transport Scotland. All of which were invaluable first experiences of engineering consulting.
I returned to CH2M for two more placements, using my existing contacts to internally apply to the Bridges team. I assisted senior engineers with real ongoing projects; learning how to use new computer software to model and carry out calculations for design. I worked on a variety of projects from small culverts to local footbridges and even got to visit a few on site. I also got to present my summer’s work to the company’s business leaders and all of their interns worldwide during my second summer. These final two placements confirmed to me that I want to be a structural engineer and I have now been offered to join CH2M as a graduate bridge engineer next year.
Being part of a female-only placement scheme did not hinder my experience in any way, in CH2M every intern was automatically enrolled on their Global Internship Program no matter how they gained their place. Without Careerwise I would not have gained such valuable experience throughout my degree and would now be struggling my way through job applications. Their pre placement workshops allowed me to network and share experiences with other women in my area of study, they also helped me to prepare and make the most of my placements in every way. I also found that each year at the end of my internship I have returned to university more determined and focussed to succeed; applying knowledge to real life situations made me realise how much I have learnt.
To any future female engineering students, my advice would firstly be to apply early. Do not be afraid that you won’t know enough, the whole point of a placement is to learn and those around you will love to show you their work and help you out. Additionally, be confident, the people around you are looking for future leaders and your input and insight will be valued. And finally, make the most of every opportunity; the experience might not be what you originally expected but there will always be something to be gained from it!