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Hiba Khan

Hiba Khan

Civil engineer, Mott MacDonald


Design, Construction, Water


United Kingdom
My highlights

Making the WES Top 50 Women in Engineering 2024 list

Working on a river bank protection project in Bangladesh

Became an ICE Invisible Superhero in 2019

My working day

A day in my life could involve any number of different things.

I’m either working overseas, usually in Asia, with a local design team for flood defence or irrigation projects, or in the UK working to reduce leakage for water companies or mainstream nature-based solutions across the water sector or beyond.

We asked Hiba…

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

I had no idea I’d get to travel so much. I’ve worked in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Tanzania, Myanmar and Uzbekistan. 

I love spending enough time in a place to learn some of the language and get a real sense of the culture and food.

Which civil engineering myth(s) you would like to bust?

That civil engineering is all about maths. 

Civil engineering to me is actually more about collaboration and partnerships.

Together we can get to the root of the problems we're facing as a society and propose better-balanced solutions, mitigating unintended consequences as much as possible.

I mostly find myself managing projects and people, talking to clients and pitching ideas or going onsite to supervise construction.

What would be the effect in your area of work without civil engineers?

A lot more rural poverty on a significant scale across the world.

My work as a civil engineer in international development ranges from reducing flood damage in rural riverside communities in Bangladesh to developing irrigation schemes to increase food supplies and reduce poverty for farm workers in Myanmar.

Would you recommend a career in civil engineering?

Up to 80% of all illness and disease is caused by contaminated water, and poor sanitation is responsible for one third of childhood mortality globally.

I’d recommend a career in civil engineering because we have the power to stop this, and as a result, engineers save more lives than doctors.

Meanwhile, they say to be truly happy in your career you need three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is the power to direct your own life and work. Engineering is so flexible and varied that you can shape your career any way you want.

If you want to be office-based, you can go down the project management or design routes.

If you want to be site-based that’s fine, too, and if you want to go off completely sideways into sustainability or safety management like I’m starting to, then there’s nothing stopping you.

Mastery is the desire to improve skills through learning and practice.

Through working on engineering projects which are always different, you can build up a real depth of experience and knowledge on a certain theme and be well on your way to becoming a leader in your chosen field.

Purpose is the feeling that you’re working towards something larger and more important than yourself. The feeling of satisfaction you get when you complete a large project that you know will genuinely improve hundreds or thousands of people’s lives is like nothing else in the world.

What are you doing to help address climate change?

I’m really passionate about the environment and always looking for ways to work on large, strategic and meaningful projects that enrich our natural environment.

I also take part in climate activism and volunteering outside of work.

I find frameworks like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, where progress against one goal can lead to harm in another, a really important reminder of the need for a systemic approach to problems, with a clear theory of change.

Hiba's career path

I studied maths, physics, English literature and art and design at A-level, so a big mix.

I actually went to university to study physics, before switching into engineering when I saw that it was more practical, like physics was at A-level.

I did a placement with Engineers Without Borders in Cambodia in the summer after my third year at university.

I worked with an NGO (non-governmental organisation), which installed rural water treatment stations, and then did a placement with Mott MacDonald in the summer after my fourth year.

I was lucky that Mott MacDonald offered me a job while I was still at university and I’ve been working with them ever since, switching between the dams and reservoirs, rivers and flooding, and international development teams.


Hiba Khan is an ICE Invisible Superhero. To find out more about her alter-ego, People Protector, head to the ICE Water: From Source to Tap exhibition page.

She also tells us how she “fluked” her way into engineering.