Laura Kelly

Laura Kelly

Degree at Edinburgh Napier B.Eng Hons in Civil Engineering
Graduation date 2010
Role title Graduate Water Engineer
Organisation Fairhurst

What was your experience studying at Edinburgh Napier University?

Day one at Napier was a pretty daunting experience for me. I had come across from Ireland and literally didn’t know a soul, but the University itself felt very welcoming and all the lecturers were very down to earth and helpful, and by lunch time I was sitting chatting to loads of my new class mates. I really enjoyed studying at Napier. Our class got on great with the lecturers and they were always happy to answer questions, even the stupid ones.

The modules themselves were really interesting and now having worked in the industry, I can see that the content was really valuable and appropriate. Most of the lecturers had worked in the industry and shared their own office and site stories which was a useful practical touch.

The exams and coursework’s were grand to, they were as practical as they could have been which made them very manageable and you could see their real life application.

The canteen facilities were especially good to for cups of tea and chocolate breaks from the library. Overall, I absolutely loved studying at Napier. Both the atmosphere and the mix of people working and studying there make it what it is. I would go back in a second if I could!

What are you doing now?

I’m currently working in Glasgow with a company called Fairhurst and my job title is ‘Graduate Water Engineer. I work within the ‘Water Services Team’ and have been involved with loads of different water related projects.

The main project I’m working on is the A9 dualling scheme, which involves dualling the road from Perth to Inverness. Its currently a single carriageway and one of the most dangerous roads in Scotland for accidents, hence they are dualling it to make it safer for road users.

The water team’s role is to assess any impacts (good or bad) that the road might have on the water environment.

  • For example, we need to assess if the road runoff (which is when the rain mixes with pollutants such as petrol, diesel, oil and road salt) will have any impact on the water quality of nearby rivers, lakes and groundwater. If the assessment shows that the road runoff will cause a deterioration in the water quality, then we need to employ mitigation measures to stop this happening
  • We also need to make sure that construction of the new road does not significantly encroach into the floodplain as this will cause flooding to get worse. This would be a serious problem if there is sensitive receptors in the area such as homes, business or wildlife etc

Iv also worked on ‘Flood Risk Assessments’ which are required by law for all new development. They involve looking at the location and design of a new development site and assessing if there is or will be any flood risk to it in the future. If the assessment indicates a flood risk, then we would recommend some mitigation measures (for example avoiding building in a particular area of the site, or constructing the finished floor levels at a specified height that will be avoid any flood level).

Just recently iv also been working on the design of a new harbour development, something I know very little about but have found it to be very interesting.  They are building a new berthing facility which will allow over 30 boats to park up and visit the town. Its very different to a building which is built on the ground. The berthing facility will partly be constructed on piles, however, the majority of it will be ‘floating’ on the water and attached to the seabed by anchors and chains.

My main role in the project was producing an Environmental Statement which considered the various environmental impacts that the development may have.

What has been your experience of working in the industry since you left university?

When I left Napier I wanted to get a job as a water engineer, however, these jobs were few and far between at the time and I simply didn’t want to take a straight up civil or structural position. So I ended up working in hospitality and moved around for 3 years (lived at home for a while, then Cumbria and Australia!).

The realisation came that I wasn’t getting anywhere with getting a graduate water job so I decided to start a masters in Hydrogeology part time. Soon after this I took an engineering job in Edinburgh where I was mainly based on site working on landfill sites. It wasn’t water but I figured the experience would be good whilst I completed my masters. I supervised the construction of a new landfill cell and some drilling works that were in preparation for a new wind turbine at the site.

To be fair, I absolutely loved the site work but I didn’t love landfills so 1 year later I found the job at Fairhurst.

Engineering is varied and it’s impossible to know when leaving university exactly what type of engineering you will end up in, you might have an idea but until you actually start working in the sector, you wont know for sure what you like. The industry is huge so if you find yourself in a job or company that you just don’t like, start searching for something you do.

What has your experience as a women on an engineering degree course?

I think my experience as a women on an engineering degree course was the exact same as the experience of a man on an engineering degree course! There was roughly 5/6 girls in our class of about 100 but being a girl was never an issue. Everyone just hung about together.

Engineering courses are mainly about developing your communication and problem solving skills and these skills are the same whether you’re a guy or a girl.

What advice would you give to women wanting to work in engineering?

Pretty simple advice really. If you want to be an engineer, then go be an engineer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman. As iv mentioned, being an engineer is about solving problems not whether you’re a guy or a girl.

Yes, when you start work in the industry you will probably come across some people that think engineering is only for men, and there might be the odd smart comment your first time on a construction site.  But, at the end of the day, having the skills to do the job is all that matters.

I would also recommend getting work experience on your summer break. Working for a design consultant in an office environment and working for a contractor on a site are two very different things. Some jobs will allow you a mix of both site and office, however, the majority of jobs will either be office based or site based (an office on site). Gaining some experience of both (even if it’s only a few weeks) will help you decide which you think you will like better.