Harriette Scowen – MEng (Hons) Civil Engineering graduate

Current employer: AECOM

Current job title: Graduate Engineer (Transportation Structures)

Current location: Croydon

“Plymouth University helped me enormously. At college, I did not receive the best results and was told by one teacher that I would never do well at university... Plymouth University encouraged me to take the industrial placement year, with AECOM approaching Plymouth looking for placement students. Now here I am, four years later as a graduate with a First Class MEng (Hons) Civil Engineering degree.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

In 2012 I undertook an industrial placement year with AECOM and off the back of this I was lucky enough to be offered sponsorship, plus a subsequent summer placement and a full-time graduate position. I was able to postpone this position until May 2016, giving me the opportunity to fulfil my ambitions of travelling and going away on a ski season. Since returning to work, I have worked on two projects: a technical project building computer models to check the stability of an existing bridge and a commercial project, looking into the running and organisation of projects and how they are funded.

How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?

Before university I was not sure what I wanted to do and got into engineering as it is a good degree with lots of options after graduation. Being encouraged to do the industrial placement year as part of the degree was really important, because through that I was able to gain lots of experience in many areas of the industry. Crucially, I was able to discover the application of civil engineering in the real world. Without my degree it would have been very difficult to achieve my current position. Although it is possible to enter engineering via other routes, such as apprenticeships, these take a long time and are very difficult to obtain.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

When I finished university, I was pretty set on what I wanted to do: the ultimate goal within civil engineering is to become chartered through the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE). I was not expecting to go into the commercial side of engineering; however, this has the benefit of ticking off ICE objectives.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

As I’m only a few months into my career, I would say the most difficult thing is adjusting after university; from travelling and skiing to suddenly working nine to five is a shock. I am lucky that I have gone back into an environment that I know and with people who know me, so I am happy to make my voice heard. I know that this was something I was quite shy about when I started my placement.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

AECOM were involved with the refurbishment works of the Royal Albert Bridge. I was lucky enough to go on site and walk along the top of the trusses. It was a great experience, to see the structure that close up and you get a great view right down the Tamar.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

To anyone wanting to get into civil engineering, I would say experience is the key thing: take up any opportunity to go on a work placement, however short, because you get a real chance to impress, the company get to know you and your ability, and when you go back as a graduate you get chosen for good projects.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

Plymouth University helped me enormously. At college, I did not receive the best results and was told by one teacher that I would never do well at university; my dream was to be an architect and I was told to rethink this if I ever wanted to go. However, I managed to secure myself a place at Plymouth on what was the BSc Architecture, Design and Structures course. During the first year I discovered how much more suited I was to engineering and how this discipline was actually where my strengths lay. After my first year I was offered a place on the Architecture course and also on the BEng Civil Engineering course. I chose Engineering and never looked back. Plymouth University encouraged me to take the industrial placement year, with AECOM approaching Plymouth looking for placement students. Now here I am, four years later as a graduate with a First Class MEng (Hons) Civil Engineering degree.

What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?

Along with the technical skills necessary for work as an engineer, my course also taught me how to present my findings, management skills, and organisational skills. The course is known for being practical and the material taught was aimed at what we need to know working in an engineering practice.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

My favourite memories of Plymouth University are the people, the place, and the surrounding area. Every year, after exams, we used to take a little road trip around Devon and Cornwall and go camping. It was great fun, even just going up into Dartmoor or over to Bovisand for an evening after lectures made university so much more worthwhile.

Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?

Yes, I do. A number of my friends have come to work at AECOM with me; others I meet up with in London and we’re all planning a trip down to Plymouth in a couple of months’ time. I have stayed in touch with a couple of lecturers: they were such a great support for the last five years, so it’s nice to keep them updated and get updates from them.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

I had a great time living and studying in Plymouth. It was the perfect university for me. I went from having poor grades at A Level to being motivated and engaged enough to be rewarded with a great degree. I feel the lecturers and the university listened to what I wanted and what I wanted to do and they were therefore able to guide me into the perfect course and degree for me.