Over 7 years ago a plucky, young and some might say handsome young lad took his first steps into Skempton not knowing what was in store for him in those eternal corridors. Mainly due to the fact he had not received his timetable and only found out lectures had started when stumbling across another CivEnger during a night at the union. To his credit he did think it strange fresher’s week had lasted longer than the name suggested. Despite this stumble, with help from Anna Hikel and CivSoc, the lad left Skempton with a degree, eager to begin his professional engineering career. That lad was me, Doug White, and I always look back on those 4 years with great fondness. Well, except for Systems Engineering in my final year. Shivers still run down my spine thinking about that exam. To pay the bills I work as a Senior Engineer in the Structures group at Frazer-Nash Consultancy. Hopefully I can give you an insight into what lies ahead after graduating...
What was the highlight of your degree?
Constructionarium would have to be a highlight even though our Naples Canopy wasn’t safe enough to stand under for too long. I don’t think many students get the chance to do practical engineering on that scale and have something to show for it in such a short space of time.
Anyone who went to El Salvador will include the trip in their list of highlights, it is such a unique experience. It’s like Constructionarium, in a tropical climate, on a tight budget but much more rewarding. Also when you’re on a diet of chicken, water and carrying concrete blocks, you’ll never be fitter.
I was lucky enough to go on all four CivSoc tours, the best of which was my first: the Budapest tour. I remember rocking out in an underground club with other first years and one of my future employers, the COO of a bridge engineering firm.
However, if I was asked what was the funniest moment? When did I laugh the most? I would have to admit it was during the surveying trip. Watching someone try and swat a moth with their drawing board and then realising they have a brown stain across their beautifully constructed survey map containing hundreds of surveyed points. I was in fits of laughter.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Has your experience changed where you want to go?
London. I was born in London, I was educated in London, (I work in Dorking) and I will die in London.
I thought I was going to work in London; however a recruitment agency pointed me in the direction of Frazer-Nash in Dorking. They have an office in Australia and people are doing secondments for other companies in France and Canada. So in five years I hope to have completed a secondment abroad, despite my London bias, and be managing my own group of engineers. I will be chartered by then, but with the IMechE not the ICE. I am not a traitor, both sit under the Engineering Council and for the IMechE I only need to sit an interview.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in structures?
I was first drawn to architecture but then I did a two-week placement in secondary school for a structural engineering firm (the closest they could get to an architecture placement). The engineers talked me out of architecture and educated me in the ways of the humble structural engineer. I got the bug and decided on a civil engineering degree. So I guess I wanted to work in structures since the age of 16.
How much of your degree do you use in your current job?
Do not throw your notes away! Professor Gardner’s steel structures notes take pride of place on my desk along with Dr. Phillips’ portal frame notes. I am part of the structures group and so anything connected with structural assessment, I use. My soils experience has been called on a few times as well. What has surprised me most is computer programming. Those MATLAB lessons were not a waste of time, at least not for me. When you come across reams of data the best way to attack it is with MATLAB scripting, trust me you will find it a godsend.
Do you get to try out different departments in Frazer-Nash before deciding which one you want to work in?
Frazer-Nash is split into different technical groups such as structures and fluids. In those groups you work in a whole range of industries. During the 3 years I have been there I have worked in the Nuclear, Oil and Gas, Rail, Defence and Food Manufacturing sectors. Secondments are encouraged, especially for the younger engineers who haven’t got deep roots yet. These secondments can be for a different technical group within the company or a secondment for one of our clients such as Rolls Royce or EDF Energy. This allows you to get a sneak peak to see if the grass really is greener.
Have you worked on any new and exciting projects?
When working in a structures group you conjure up images of steel girders, concrete blocks and timber beams. However, I never thought I would be modeling a product made of chocolate. The client wanted to investigate how modifying the geometry of their product would affect the product’s resistance to cracking. There is not a lot of literature on chocolate properties so I had to perform some impact tests on the product to verify my model.
Do you have any tips for getting on to internship or graduate programs?
If you are not fortunate enough to meet a prospective employee on a CivSoc trip to Budapest then there are some other steps you can take other than the usual ‘submit an application and hope’.
Very few companies take on first years; they just don’t think you have enough technical knowledge. Even though some companies will get you checking drawings, extracting data or doing some other mundane task that a 10 year old could do. Don’t be disheartened and use that first summer wisely. Do some volunteer work, ideally engineering based and improve your CV for next year. Talk to your lecturers and recent graduates. Your lecturers may have contacts in companies you had never considered applying to. Make sure you get to know people in the years above at socials so by the time you are looking for internships or a job you might have a contact in a range of companies.
What’s your favourite way to unwind and take your mind off civil engineering?
If I am feeling energetic a swim is a good rejuvenator and washes any troubles away, but episodes of The Big Bang Theory do the same. During the weekend I like to continue exploring London. There is always plenty to do; go see a show in the West End, watch football at Stamford Bridge or Craven Cottage, go to Borough Market or Spitalfields and many other places. I think Samuel Johnson found the best words to sum up what I am trying to say:
“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Is there anything at university that you wished you had tried or taken part in?
I wish that I had taken on a sport that had a varsity match. I feel didn’t do my part to put the Medics in their place.