How I became a Civil Engineer
ICE graduate member Mimi-Isabella Nwosu explains how she overcame setbacks and obstacles to achieve her dream of becoming a civil engineer.
After some false starts through A- levels and going through a clearing process for university, Mimi-Isabella studied a science course she had zero interest in. Through a chance encounter, Mimi then found herself in a lecture that changed her outlook…
Tell us about your experience entering the Civil Engineering Field?
“I was invited to a lecture by a friend. The course was male-dominated and had only two women. Before I could ask the lecture had started. The topic of the lecture was bridge design and construction methods. I made 3 pages of notes and started to raise my hand to ask questions. The lecturer asked to speak to me after the lecture. He asked me if I had knowledge of civil engineering and what course I came from. I used to think an engineer was someone who fixed cars
After 15 minutes of conversation with the lecturer and little research (I like to take risks…), I decided to transfer to the University of Portsmouth and study Civil Engineering. I was worried, as I didn’t have the prerequisite A-level subjects to study Civil Engineering but I was very determined to achieve the best results and challenge myself. I appreciate the university’s faith in me.
I decided to cover all the foundations of Civil Engineering; geotechnical, structural, environmental engineering and construction management modules.
How well do you know the sector or industry?
You don’t know an industry until you’ve worked in it after the support and advice of a very helpful lecturer, Dr Woods, I decided it was important for me to take a placement year. I completed a 16month placement with a global construction management firm in central London as an Undergraduate Engineer. I worked with a multidisciplinary team of 50 and over 100 subcontractors on-site, I enjoyed working with various personnel, and having a variety of tasks. My role included design management, ensuring all works met deadlines and to were budget. I never thought of the processes within construction because I only saw the finished product.
The pressure of meeting deadlines and changing my mindset from a student to a working professional kept me on my toes, allowed me to develop skills, showed me the practical application of my degree.
I successfully completed my placement year and felt more than prepared to finish my degree. My favourite module at university was ‘Soils and Materials’ I have always been interested in sustainable development.
My final year project, I explored concrete technology and fire engineering. I completed a 15,000-word dissertation and a laboratory experiment titled: ‘Investigating the mechanical properties of Ultra-high-performance fibre reinforced concrete (UHPFRC) at elevated temperatures.’
I achieved a first-class for my project and in the overall module. I fell in love with concrete technology and its complexities and decided I wanted to become a Concrete Engineer.
During my final year, I started to apply for graduate roles. I enjoyed the application process. I was offered 5 jobs before graduation.
Mimi’s CVs – “I got the job!” … I was labelled the CV Guru
A friend asked me to assist them to look at their CV and cover letter for graduate roles. I reviewed this and emailed it back to them. The CV received numerous graduate job interviews. I started a small freelance careers service assisting graduates, students and individuals with less than 2 years’ experience in their fields called ‘Mimi’s CVs’.
In 2018 I graduated from university with an upper second class (2:1) and accepted a role as a Graduate Highways Engineer for a global engineering consultancy, which lasted 11 months. I was able to improve upon my communication, technical, AutoCAD, and leadership skills. Working on various highway projects which meant I was able to liaise with different people, attend site visits and work with individuals across the globe.
However, I knew that I wanted a career in Concrete Engineering. After some research, I found the role I had been looking for.
Now I’m Assistant Materials Engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine. I assist projects in the UK by reviewing their concrete specifications, managing materials testing, site investigations and liaising with various departments. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors; highways, bridges, buildings, tunnels and airports. I actively use my degree in my role especially the knowledge from the modules I enjoyed the most.
Not many people are aware of Materials Engineering and I am dedicated to bringing the spotlight to the profession. To further my knowledge of material properties and performance I have accepted an offer to study for my master’s degree part-time in “Advanced Materials for Sustainable Infrastructure”
I have No regrets
Studying Civil Engineering is a decision that I will never regret. It has changed my whole life, my mindset, the way I view the world and it has made me want to explore the beautiful world we live in.
Learning for an engineer never stops. Due to the great advancements within technology, I believe I’ve joined the industry at the best time! I am extremely determined to meet my goal of becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) within the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
My advice to individuals wanting to join the industry
Do your research know your industry, expand your network. grasp all opportunities – Also create your own opportunities, a wise person once said to me, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.
Set goals, however, don’t be too hard on yourself. Gain experience within your field.
Attend external conferences and lecturers on topics that interest you. Keep your CV and cover letter updated (all experiences are valid) Be bold, be brave! It is ok to fail; failure could be the start of a new adventure
1. Have you faced any challenges being a woman in a male-dominated field? if so, how did you overcome this?
I have experienced feelings of imposter syndrome, the way I deal with this is by asking questions. I live by the mantra “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Also, I try to find the time to keep up-to-date with industry news and innovations.
Another challenge I have faced is dealing with the lack of women in the industry in general, I have found many ‘women in engineering’ groups and ‘women in construction’ groups both groups can be found inside and outside of my organisation, forming a community where the women involved can come together and discuss various issues and provide solutions to the diversity issue. I am also a STEM ambassador, I attend schools, colleges and universities to talk about the fantastic opportunities within engineering and my day-to-day role.
2. What advice would you give a young female that would be joining a male-dominated field?
• Ask questions
• Ignore the naysayers (negative people)
• Get a mentor
• Join communities to make you feel comfortable
• Set goals (long term and short term) – create a vision board if you would like!
• Get involved in your industry, encourage other young women to become engineers (STEM volunteering)