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Hiba Khan

Hiba Khan

Civil engineer, Mott MacDonald

Expertise

Design, Construction, Water

Location

United Kingdom
Career highlights

Travelling the world

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 with a major water company to reduce leakage.

I really enjoy going out to sites and seeing the structures take shape and the positive impacts on the local community

I’m really passionate about the environment and always find new ways to help the environment, either through donating to causes like carbon offsetting, through convincing my local office to start composting, and using search engines that plant trees with the revenue they generate.

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 Cambodia, Tanzania, Myanmar and Bangladesh, and even got to spend enough time out there to learn basic language, explore the little-known tourist spots and most importantly, eat all the food.

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

“Civil engineering is all about maths”. I’m only five years into my career as a civil engineer and I’m already barely doing much maths.

I mostly find myself managing projects and people, talking to clients and pitching ideas or going on site 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.

Education

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, working 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.

Superheroes

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.