Kim McGowan – My Journey into Civil Engineering
In one of two CECA Scotland Blogs for International Women in Engineering Day 2019, Kim McGowan, Joint Winner of CECA Scotland’s Most Promising Trainee Civil Engineer 2018 Award has written a blog on her journey into civil engineering.
When I left school, I accepted a scholarship to play football in South Carolina, USA. At the time, I had wanted to do an Architecture course but the American university and college set up is different from ours. It’s more like our high school, where you have to complete various subjects and don’t pick a major until 3rd year. To be honest, I didn’t really know what civil engineering was at that age and presumed construction was all to do with architecture.
After hitting a stumbling block in the US, I decided to return to Scotland and started looking for courses to apply to, which led me to Civil Engineering. I always enjoyed Graphic Communication at school and was better at Maths than English subjects. I was accepted to study at the University of West of Scotland and went on to complete my 4 year BEng in Civil Engineering there.
Whilst studying I completed two summer work placements, the first with Hope Homes Scotland working on site, and the second with Glasgow City Council working in the office. Just before graduating, I was offered a job with Morrison Construction, which I gladly accepted and relocated to the Highlands to work on the Elgin Flood Alleviation Scheme.
This was my main introduction to setting out as well as gaining valuable experience in temporary works design. It was a very interesting job with many different aspects to it, and a really good place to start out. From there I worked on various wind farm contracts, completed the Galliford Try graduate scheme and did a few short placements to the design and estimating department as well.
What does my job involve?
As a site engineer, I had to ensure that setting out and engineering control of the works was achieved to the contract requirements, keep records up to date and daily diaries and carry out training for civil engineering technicians. Once I moved into a section engineer position, I carried out a lot of wind farm track designs, providing site engineers with setting out information. I carry out health & safety briefings, risk assessments and method statements and generally keep track of progress on site.
The best aspect of my job is the different challenges encountered on a daily basis.
“Being a civil engineer is never boring, there is always a problem to solve or something new to consider”.
Days on site easily fly in and even though I worked on four wind farm projects in a row, every project brought fresh challenges.
The Gender Challenges
Right from the off, on my first work placement, the plumber on site told me I should be out cleaning the toilets! And then, on my first day with Glasgow City Council, I was being given a tour of the office and upon reaching the kitchen, a mechanical engineer stated “oh good, we have someone to clean the fridge now.” So, there is no doubt that women entering the industry do face challenges.
I’m an easy going person and have learned that typically if you give some cheek back, comments like this are usually a one off. Hats off to the male staff at Morrison Construction though as thankfully I’ve never received any negative comments from them and like to think I have worked hard enough to gain the respect of my peers and colleagues.
The positives of a career in civil engineering far outweigh the negatives. My message to girls and women thinking about a career in the industry is go for it and definitely do not be put off by the stereotype that it’s a male industry. Yes, you might need thick skin at times, but give as good as you get, and you will succeed without a problem!
Watch Kim talking about her experiences here: