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A year in the life of a QUEST scholar

01 May 2019

Anna Doherty, a civil engineering student at Queen’s University Belfast, is currently doing an industry placement year with her QUEST sponsor Skanska on HS2 remedial works in London. Find out how she’s got on so far.

A year in the life of a QUEST scholar

My second year at university was an exciting challenge; the range and complexity of interesting new engineering problems were presented in lectures, assignments and testing.  

In the 'Highways and Geology' module, we conducted a research project into ‘Slope Instability on the Antrim Coast between Larne and Garron Point’.  

After lectures around instability on slopes, we went on a field trip to the Antrim coast and investigated factors which caused the instabilities to occur, remedial options and the limitations for land use and impact on infrastructure and development. I found the project very interesting and the development of the remedial strategies and coastal road around the area are great achievements in engineering.  

Applying problem-solving skills  

The Design and Communications 2 module was a fantastic opportunity to apply problem-solving aspects learnt in other modules to an actual project while working with classmates to come up with innovative solutions.  

We designed a model communications tower made from foamboard designed to hold a load of 5N. We worked together as a team to find the preferred option in the conceptual design stage before carrying out a range of structural calculations and practical considerations for the design.  

The team work involved in designing and constructing the tower was very enjoyable, while testing day was great fun!  

In groups we also designed a retail distribution centre. The task incorporated skills and knowledge we had learnt in structural mechanics and applied it considering the structural form, stability of the building and ensuring the building was sufficiently strong.  

We also examined the serviceability criteria for the scheme, ensuring the building didn’t have any excessive deflections and produced AutoCAD drawings and Google Sketchup versions of the warehouse structure. 

I’ve found geotechnics a bit of a challenge at university. Although the module was interesting and practical experiments such as compressions tests on soil helped my understanding, exam questions were difficult.  

My Skanska placement 

During my placement year, I’m making sure that I ask questions and learn about the application of geotechnics and hydraulics on site to help improve my understanding of the topics in my third and final year. Another thing I’ve done is attend a free ICE talk on tunnelling to increase my understanding of groundworks.  

I began my placement In July last year at HS2 enabling works in London. I find it fascinating how I can connect parts of my study to the work I’m doing on placement. 

For example, I was given the opportunity to see the demolition of a similar type of warehouse to the one I designed in class. It was interesting to see the process in reverse and helped me understand construction and dismantling of buildings better.  

I’m really making sure I enjoy my placement year – so that I can make the most of it to gain skills and knowledge which will help to develop my career as a civil engineer. I’m getting to work part of the time as a design management intern and partly as a site engineer, which is giving me a really broad overview of the industry. It’s also great working with and learning from people from many types of backgrounds and experiences. 

Next steps

In terms of the future, I’m aiming to gain a place on the graduate program at Skanska after university. I want to become chartered as a civil engineer and I’ve already started registering work I've completed on the ICE digital portal IPD online.  

Find out more about QUEST scholarships.

  • Anna Doherty, Anna Doherty