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Civil Engineer blog

How I became a Civil Engineer

08 January 2020

ICE graduate member Mimi-Isabella Nwosu explains how she overcame setbacks and obstacles to achieve her dream of becoming a civil engineer.

How I became a Civil Engineer
Mimi-Isabella Nwosu

After some false starts through A- levels and going through a clearing process for university, Mimi-Isabella studied a science course she had zero interest in. Through a chance encounter, Mimi then found herself in a lecture that changed her outlook...

What course is this?

"I was invited to a lecture by a friend. The course was male-dominated and had only two women. Before I could ask the lecture had started. The topic of the lecture was bridge design and construction methods. I made 3 pages of notes and started to raise my hand to ask questions. The lecturer asked to speak to me after the lecture. He asked me if I had knowledge of civil engineering and what course I came from.

I used to think an engineer was someone who fixed cars

After 15 minutes of conversation with the lecturer and little (I like to take risks) research, I decided to transfer to the University of Portsmouth and study Civil Engineering. I was worried, as I didn’t have the prerequisite A-level subjects to study Civil Engineering but I was very determined to achieve the best results and challenge myself. I appreciate the university’s faith in me.

I decided to cover all the foundations of Civil Engineering; geotechnical, structural, environmental engineering and construction management modules.

You don't know an industry until you've worked in it

After the support and advice of a very helpful lecturer, Dr Woods, I decided it was important for me to take a placement year. I completed a 16-month placement with a global construction management firm in central London. My title was Undergraduate Engineer. I worked in a multidisciplinary team of 50 and over 100 subcontractors on-site. My role included design management, ensuring all works met deadlines and to were budget. I never thought of the processes within construction because I only saw the finished product.

Behind the scenes

I enjoyed working with various personnel and having variety in my tasks. The pressure of meeting deadlines and changing my mindset from a student to a working professional kept me on my toes, allowed me to develop on skills and showed me the practical application of my degree. This experience will later allow me to complete my studies and prepare for my future career.

I successfully completed my placement year and felt more than prepared to finish my degree. My favourite module at university was 'Soils and Materials' I have always been interested in sustainable development and wanted to design and build for a better future - I knew material science would pioneer this!

For my final year project, I explored concrete technology and fire engineering. I completed a 15,000-word dissertation and a laboratory experiment titled: 'Investigating the mechanical properties of Ultra-high-performance fibre reinforced concrete (UHPFRC) at elevated temperatures.'

I achieved a first-class for my project and in the overall module. I fell in love with concrete technology and its complexities and decided I wanted to become a Concrete Engineer.

During my final year, I started to apply for graduate roles. I enjoyed the application process. I was offered 5 jobs before graduation, this gave me freedom as I could fully focus on my degree.

Mimi's CVs - "I got the job!"

A friend on my course asked me to assist them to look at their CV and cover letter for graduate roles. I reviewed their CV and cover letter and emailed it back to them. A few weeks later, the same friend told me that with their new CV and cover letter they had received numerous graduate job interviews and wanted me to assist them with interview coaching. From this point on, I was labelled the CV guru. Word spread of my “CV expertise” and after a few months I started a small freelance careers service assisting graduates, students and individuals with less than 2 years’ experience in their fields called 'Mimi's CVs'. I have reviewed and rewritten over 400+ CVs, cover letters and conducted numerous interview coaching sessions. I have consistently received outstanding feedback and have a proven ability to successfully assist my clients.

I graduated from university in 2018 with an upper second class (2:1) and accepted a role as a Graduate Highways Engineer for a global engineering consultancy. I worked at the consultancy for 11 months. I was able to improve upon my communication, technical, AutoCAD, and leadership skills. I worked on various highway projects which meant I was able to liaise with different people, attend site visits and work with individuals across the globe.

However, I knew that I wanted a career in Concrete Engineering. After some research, I found the role I had been looking for.

Now I'm Asst. Materials Engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine

In my role, I assist projects in the UK by reviewing their concrete specifications, managing materials testing, site investigations and liaising with various departments. My role allows me to see the whole project lifecycle and communicate with people at all levels of the organisation. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors; highways, bridges, buildings, tunnels and airports. In my day-to-day role, I can be in 3 different working environments a laboratory, on-site or at my office, truly no day is the same. I actively use my degree in my role especially the knowledge from the modules I enjoyed the most.

Not many people are aware of Materials Engineering and I am dedicated to bringing the spotlight to the profession. To further my knowledge of material properties and performance I have accepted an offer to study for my master’s degree part-time in “Advanced Materials for Sustainable Infrastructure” in 2020 at Imperial College London, which will be sponsored by Sir Robert McAlpine!

No regrets

Studying Civil Engineering is a decision that I will never regret. It has changed my whole life, my mindset, the way I view the world and it has made me want to explore the beautiful world we live in. I've started solo travelling and it has taken me to all corners of the earth. I love how diverse the world is, diversity is what makes us all unique. I love learning about architecture, languages, dabbling in photography and really try to engross myself into the culture of the countries I visit.

Learning for an engineer never stops. Due to the great advancements within technology, I believe I’ve joined the industry at the best time!

I am extremely determined to meet my goal of becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) within the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

I start the new decade in a job I love and will continue to complete the steps to achieving the life I’ve always wanted."

My advice to individuals wanting to join the industry

  • Do your research (degree, apprenticeship, degree apprenticeship)
  • Know your industry (current affairs, new technology)
  • Expand your network (LinkedIn, networking events)
  • Grasp all opportunities - Also create your own opportunities, a wise person once said to me, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.
  • Set goals, however, don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Gain experience within your field (placement years, internships, work experience)
  • Attend external conferences and lecturers on topics that interest you
  • Keep your CV and cover letter updated (all experiences are valid)
  • Be bold, be brave!
  • It is ok to fail; failure could be the start of a new adventure

Finally, I would like to thank firstly my family and friends who have always been incredibly supportive, my friend who introduced me to Civil Engineering, Dr Lee Woods, the University of Portsmouth - School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, my previous employers and Sir Robert McAlpine.

  • Mimi Isabella Nwosu, Assistant Materials Engineer, Sir Robert McAlpine