While applying for university, I was good at maths and enjoyed solving problems, but all my teachers advised me against studying such a ‘male dominated’ subject even though civil engineering was an obvious choice. Looking back, I have no regrets and I’m thankful I followed my instincts and was lucky enough to have studied civil engineering at two of my desired universities in the UK.
Moving to a foreign country when you are young is a terrifying and daunting prospect, but I enjoyed my years at university so much that it encouraged me to stay and continue my professional career here in the UK. I applied for a graduate engineer role at Mott MacDonald and officially started my working life in September 2016.
I found that I settled in immediately and felt comfortable at work. As a graduate, I have benefited from a close-knit team for support and guidance. Equally, I am given a lot of responsibility which allows me to stretch and develop myself. Mott MacDonald has provided me with lots of great exposure to the industry and I have been fortunate to be involved in some large schemes, such as my current role at Heathrow airport.
From a young age, I have been involved in all types of extracurricular activities and I am a firm believer in having a good healthy work-life balance. I am a sporty person and I have recently been selected to play dodgeball for the Hong Kong national team. Working in such a flexible company means that I can organise work and training in Hong Kong to go hand in hand. At Mott MacDonald, in parallel to my day-to-day job, I have been encouraged and given the opportunity to pursue interests close to my heart, namely promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects to school children as part of the Bridges 4 Schools initiative.
I remember how people told me engineering was a male dominated field (which I do not agree with as around 40% of graduates to recently chartered-level engineers are female at Mott MacDonald) when I was applying for university, and that is a perception I want to change through my work with school children. During one of the Bridges 4 Schools visits in Tunbridge Wells, I asked a little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up and she replied, “a model”. Instead of asking her why, I kept quiet and showed her how to complete the games and challenges we had arranged for them that day. The group of children were asked to work together to build both a 12m long cable stayed bridge and the strongest bridge they could using K’NEX modelling toys. It was a fun and interactive session for the school children and they came up with numerous interesting designs using the K’NEX kits. At the end of the day I asked if she still wanted to be a model and she said that she wanted to be an engineer like me. That was an extremely touching moment and made everything we did when we were planning these sessions feel worthwhile.
Looking back, I feel truly lucky to be where I am right now, working within a company which values personal qualities, team spirit and inspiring the young engineers of the future. Despite the fact that there was some discrepancy about whether engineering was the right choice for me, my teachers were supportive and invited me back to my old school in Beijing where I completed my A Levels in June 2017 to give a career talk at this year’s graduation ceremony, I believe this is a way for them to show recognition of my decision.