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Micheala Chan

Micheala Chan

Assistant Engineer, Arcadis

Expertise

Design, Water, Environmental Management

Location

United Kingdom
Career highlights

Becoming an ICE President’s Future Leader 2020/21.

Leading WASH initiatives in an informal settlement in Tanzania.

Facilitating water and sanitation guidelines for UN-Habitat as part of their Covid-19 response.

How I became a civil engineer

I studied Maths, Further Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Spanish at A level before university. I then read for a BA and MEng in Engineering at University of Cambridge and specialised in Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering.

At university I did a number of summer internships where I had the opportunity to work on projects such as Thames Tideway and Crossrail. I have volunteered for an international, student-led NGO in Tanzania working on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiatives.

I am currently on a graduate scheme at Arcadis with their water team.

As a civil engineer, you have the opportunity to positively change lives in a very tangible way, such as building key infrastructure and the provision of basic services. Each day is varied and you can play a key role in building a better future.

A day in my life

Since I am part of a relatively small design team, each day is never quite the same as the previous one. I’m usually at my desk doing various calculations and design-related work.

When I’m not in the office, I can be found on site trying to better understand the physical conditions and constraints that impacts our work. Through my interactions with clients and Arcadis colleagues (both within the UK and in our international offices such as Bangalore), I am able to fully appreciate the multidimensional and multi-faceted nature of every project.

Beyond this, I work with Shelter (Arcadis’ pro-bono initiative with UN Habitat) and I also serve as one of Arcadis’ Charity Heroes who provides support to the various charity initiatives that the London office undertakes.

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because...

As a civil engineer, you have the opportunity to positively change lives in a very tangible way, such as building key infrastructure and the provision of basic services. Each day is varied and you can play a key role in building a better future.

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

My first group project at university was a week-long Lego project. My team built a Lego lorry (complete with a trailer, of course!) which used a PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) controller to self-correct when reversing and parking.

It was a fantastic pedagogical exercise which really highlighted the ‘complexity’ of concepts used in programming by juxtaposing it with something as familiar as Lego construction.

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

I first wanted to become a civil engineer at the age of 9 when I learned about the ancient Egyptians in school.

In being given the flexibility to choose any aspect of ancient Egypt to present to the class, I decided to choose their irrigation system.

Learning about shadoofs and about how it greatly contributed to their rise and power as an empire was absolutely fascinating! It underscored for me the importance of managing natural resources in a strategic manner.

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

A member of the Board of Trustees for the Cambridge Development Initiative, an international NGO which aims to alleviate poverty in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, through health, education, entrepreneurship and WASH schemes.

As the author Toni Morrison once said: “Your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” Not a day goes by where I do not take this to heart as a moral responsibility.

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

Knowing that I can help to provide a greater quality of life for others through my work renews my passion for engineering every morning. I am a firm believer in the power and potential of collaboration between all as a driver of innovation.

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

Before I became a civil engineer, I knew that civil engineering played an important role in shaping the world around us.

It wasn’t until I started working in the industry that I truly appreciated the scale on which this happens – the breathe, shape, scope, and nature of the work that civil engineers do in service of others never ceases to amaze me.

I am also further humbled by the industry’s commitment to knowledge sharing to ensure that best practices drive innovation across the field.

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

I would like to be part of the global efforts to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 6: 'Clean water and sanitation for all'.

Living in a country like the UK, in which 90% of our infrastructure has already been developed, many people don’t give much thought to the abhorrent and uninhabitable conditions that others must live with, in addition to compounding factors such as climate change.

There are many commendable projects (both grassroots and government-led) which amplify marginalised voices to innovate on delivery of existing technology. For me, projects like this provide great opportunities for engineers to demonstrate their social awareness and ability to work across sectors to delivery sustainable and human-centred results.

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

Many people believe that civil engineering is all about calculations and building infrastructure.

I believe that now more than ever civil engineers have a moral imperative to consider the ‘bigger picture’, to move beyond simply the ‘technical’.

As we can already see in certain sectors and projects (such as designing for inclusivity and equity), we must consider and contend with the social dimensions of our work.

Anything else? i.e. personal causes, hobbies

For me, I find it morally difficult to simply stand by while there are quotidian assaults on the dignity and humanity of others.

I spend a lot of my time outside of work volunteering for a number of charities such as Europe Must Act and the Refugee Council. In my leisure time, I enjoy running and Muay Thai (an ancient Thai combat boxing sport.)