What do you do?
I am a Principal Engineer in the Coasts and Oceans Group at HR Wallingford. My role is very varied as it involves both technical and commercial work. For example, on a given day I could be running a numerical model on sediment transport for a port or coastal development project, leading a project team and liaising with clients, or preparing technical and commercial bids.
What education and training do you have?
I have a BEng in Environmental Systems Engineering from Lancaster University which included subjects like fluid mechanics, engineering design, control engineering and hydrogeology. I then completed an MSc at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Sustainable Management of the Water Environment. As I particularly enjoyed studying hydraulics and numerical modelling, I decided to specialise further by completing a PhD in the numerical modelling of beaches and coastal processes at Lancaster University. Before this, I completed secondary school in Sri Lanka, and maths and physics were my favourite subjects at school, so I wanted to pursue engineering at University. I would say equal numbers of girls and boys in my class chose these subjects and went on to do engineering and science at further education.
What do you particularly enjoy about your job?
One part of my job that I really enjoy is the need to be innovative about solving problems. You can find yourself working on a project at a greenfield site in a remote part of the world for which there might be little or no available data, and you need to find ways to overcome challenges like this. I also really enjoy the variety that my job provides which can be anything from working on simple desk assessments to more complex numerical modelling studies; project management to pricing technical work and reviewing contractual terms; and working with UK-based and international clients.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
Growing up in Venezuela and Sri Lanka, I was really inspired by my parents. My mother worked for the United Nations and my father was a Professor and Consultant to the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. Conversations at home often revolved around major infrastructure projects, such as large dam, irrigation and road projects and their economic, social and environmental implications; and sometimes I got the opportunity to visit these project sites with my parents.
Tell us about a project you have worked on
We recently supported the port masterplan development for a major port in South Asia. I enjoyed this project as it involved undertaking multi-disciplinary studies to optimise the port layout by balancing operational requirements with the need to minimise environmental impacts. I project managed and led the technical studies on this job.
What are you particularly proud of?
On a personal level, I’m really proud that I managed to become an ICE Chartered Engineer and gain my project management accreditation while working and expecting my daughter. It was hard work, but very worthwhile! I have recently returned to work, and I am really pleased to be able to resume my career, thanks to flexible working. I also feel very proud to be able to work with world-renowned experts on a day to day basis at HR Wallingford.
What would you say to girls interested in becoming engineers?
I would say ‘Go for it’! Engineering is a great career choice for anyone who enjoys maths and science, and who is interested in solving real-life problems. From developing basic infrastructure to protecting our environment and working internationally, engineering provides a whole range of opportunities. I was one of only two female engineering students (less than 5%) when I was studying for my degree in the UK, and I think we do need more female role models, particularly in senior management roles. This is really key to inspiring the female engineers of the future.