16 mantras to help you be a successful civil engineer

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, members share the personal mantras that have shaped their careers.

  • Updated: 22 June, 2021
  • Author: Anh Nguyen, ICE digital content editor

What makes some of our best female civil engineers tick is something we wanted to explore for International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) this year.

From being brave and fearless to making sure they do what they love, these women have some great life lessons to share – and we think they'll be useful to you, too.

No question is too silly

“My personal mantra has always been ‘no question is a silly question, and if in doubt, always ask’,” says Sally Walters, ICE Fellow and project manager at Stantec.

“This statement has not only helped me learn and evolve as an engineer, but also helped me gain new roles and advances in my career progression.”

Selina Rai, structural engineer at Arup and winner of last year's ICE Emerging Engineers award, expands on the importance of asking questions with a reminder to "always keep learning".

"Having this mindset has helped me develop my technical knowledge, contribute effectively to project team success, and to build positive relationships in my career and personal life," she says.

In a similar vein, Kerry Evans (ICE North Wales Branch chair who's project managing the Menai Bridge repairs) says: “The answer is not always the solution, identifying the right question to ask is.”

Mimi Nwosu, package engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine, agrees, with her mantra “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.

“My mother always told me to ask questions and to not be too shy to say ‘I don’t know’. This has allowed me to close knowledge gaps, upskill, and identify areas where I would need more training.

“The worst answer you can get by asking is ‘no’. By asking, I’ve been able to explore areas of civil engineering I didn’t think I would,” she reveals.

Believe in yourself

Blessing Danha, senior director at Ankura and ICE Council member, believes that her mantra has opened doors for her.

“My mantra is ‘take a chance and trust yourself’. This has served me well professionally and personally, and opened my life to incredible opportunities and experiences,” she says.

Always believe in yourself,” says Nushma Juwaheer, project engineer at Curtins. “It’s helped me from university days through to finding a graduate job and is still relevant to me today.

“Recognising your own skills and strengths helps you to set your goals and, importantly, gives you the confidence to go after them.”

Self-belief and self-confidence is also a key driver for Ayo Sokale, Environment Agency project manager, who earlier this year revealed she is autistic in a moving blog for ICE.

I can achieve anything I desire,” she says. “Those that inspire me are a testimony that it’s all very possible. After all, they don’t have two heads, and neither do I!”

“When I marvel at the great engineers and projects, it can be overwhelming. However, I remind myself that they’re all great examples of what we can all achieve when we develop ourselves.

“This helps me believe whatever goal I’m working towards is achievable, and I can then focus on the steps I need to take, as opposed to being paralysed by fear or feelings of inadequacy."

Fight for what's right

“I try to live by Toni Morrison’s quote ‘if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else’.

“These sentences are a simple reminder which guide me to always fight for what is important and right, even if that goes against what all the signs (or people!) are telling me,” says ICE President Rachel Skinner’s Future Leader Micheala Chan.

“This is a particularly important lesson for engineers, who can focus on the technical side of our work, sometimes to the detriment of the people and community aspect.”

Kaye Pollard, a fellow ICE President's Future Leader, echoes Chan's idea of working for the greater good: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

"I'm passionate about rising to the challenges of modern engineering projects and developing solutions that will shape the future of the profession," adds Hayley Jackson from Taylor Woodrow. 

"This mantra has enabled me to strive to develop as an engineer, to have an opportunity to make a real difference in the industry. As an early career professional, being recognised as one of the ICE President's Future Leaders for 2019-20 has allowed me to participate in strategic projects that will influence construction for years to come."

Do what you love

Dr Ruth Kelly, from Amey Consulting and ICE NI STEM ambassador of the Year, thinks that the easiest way to enjoy your career is to “work at what you love doing.”

“Civil engineering is for the person who enjoys problem-solving and is creative. It has so many sub-disciplines that you should take the time to figure out which interests you most. For me, geotechnics sounded like a rock-solid choice.”

Live life with no regrets

Sally Sudworth, global head of sustainability and climate change at Mott MacDonald, encourages people to “be courageous, always prioritise the important things and people, and live life with no regrets”.

“Looking back, I’ve had some dips in my career that have given me superb material as evidence to get me the next job. You just need to try to be objective and always remember to be kind to yourself,” she advises.

Always be fair

'Always be fair' is the mantra by which Paula McMahon, ICE Fellow and engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine, lives her life. She says this has helped when projects have inevitable bumps in the road.

She explains: “It not only effectively solves disputes but allows everyone to feel better about the outcomes.”

Paula McMahon with engineering Lottie doll Paula McMahon taking a Lottie doll on the WES Lottie Tour to show her what life as a civil engineer is like. Image credit: Paula McMahon

Don’t let fear stop you

Be bold, take risks, let go of fear of failures,” says Dr Barnali Ghosh, ICE Fellow and technical director at Mott MacDonald. 

“This has really shaped my career when I’ve taken the plunge into new opportunities with determination to succeed. This has taken me places and helped me to work on the most interesting projects,” she explains.

Even if it scares you, don’t let that stop you doing it,” Claudia Caravello, assistant project manager at Turner & Townsend and ICE London Rising Star, concurs.

Her advice is to fake it ‘til you make it: “If you act confident, no one will know you’re scared, and eventually you will start to feel and believe in that confidence yourself.

“I’ve said yes to giving talks to large crowds despite insane nerves. I’ve visited some of the tallest buildings around the globe despite a fear of heights. I’ve had some difficult conversations at work despite being scared of confronting certain people or issues. No matter the outcomes, I can happily look back at my decisions and be proud I went for it.

“Most of all, I’ve revealed more opportunities that I wouldn’t have known existed if I hadn’t taken that first step.”

Just keep going

A mantra that brings to mind Dory's catchphrase from the Finding Nemo film ("Just keep swimming") is our final mantra from Bethany Holroyd, UK health and safety advisor at WSP. 

"Just keep going," says Holroyd. "This mantra has helped me so much throughout my life both personal and professional.

"When times get tough, or a task is hard, even if I only chip away slowly at something, or if what I’m doing feels like it’s sending me backwards, I just keep going and I’ll eventually get there. I tell myself I’ve got this, I can do this and I just keep moving forwards towards my goal."

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