Paula McMahon

Paula McMahon

Engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine

Country United Kingdom

Specialisms Design, construction, project management

Career highlights

How I became a civil engineer

I got an apprenticeship with my local council following a week’s work experience there.  They sponsored me to do an ONC Civil Engineering and a Civil Engineering Degree whilst I was working four days a week.  After the council I worked at some different private companies and worked on projects all around the UK and abroad.  Later I paid for myself to do a Diploma in Management via distance learning.

Along the way I gained professional qualifications which consider your experience as well as your academic qualifications.

I now help others get professionally qualified who have lots of different qualifications – not everyone has to do a degree at university.

A typical day in your life...

Every day changes but generally I start at 8am and plan my day, for example what meetings do I have.

I sometimes write reports and sometimes I have to go on site so I have to put on special high visibility clothes. I used to do this more often when I was the Highways Structures Manager on the A19.

My job has recently changed and now I mentor lots of people to gain professional qualifications so I am always on the phone seeing how they are getting on and encouraging them to work towards their goals. I can visit them anywhere in the north of England or Scotland or speaks to them over video conferencing.

I also do lots of STEM Ambassador work so I spend lots of time speaking to people about how important engineering is and how civil engineers change the world.

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because …

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because it allows you to make a difference, you can see lots of different types of projects, you can travel and most of all you can enjoy it.

What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?

I made a working car from a Lego kit when I was at school. It took weeks to do and had gears and a steering wheel. I still have the box under my stairs but I haven't attempted to make it since – probably because I suspect most of the parts are missing!


A career in civil engineering allows you to make a difference. You can see lots of different types of projects, you can travel and most of all you can enjoy it.

Paula McMahon

Civil engineer with Sir Robert McAlpiner

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

My careers officer at school helped me chose a career and he put me on a placement for a week on a residential course (INPUT). During this week I found out about all types of engineering and how engineers make a difference. I then got a work experience placement and the people at the council helped me make my mind up. I later got a job at the council and the rest is history.

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also …

I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also a gardener, fish pond keeper and chicken owner. I also enjoy travelling and I am a qualified scuba diver. I also make beer with my husband which we drink in our own pub at home. Recently I have adopted two kittens, Duke and Fuggles, and they are keeping me busy.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

I enjoy the variety of my work and the fact that I am making a difference. I can drive past sites in my local area and see larger national projects on TV I have been involved in and think ‘I helped do that’.

I totally love mentoring people and helping promote engineering to lots of different people of different ages.

What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

I love the fact that you can change jobs and work on lots of different interesting projects.

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

I would have loved to have worked on building an iconic structure like the Transporter Bridge over the River Tees so I could see it every day.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust?

Civil Engineering is not boring, you can work on lots of interesting projects all over the world.

I want to become a civil engineer.

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