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Studying civil engineering

civil engineering studentNeil Carter reflects on student life and the skills you need in the world of work.

When did you decide to become an engineer?

I have always been very practical and was always involved in a range of technical activities at home. Apparently I used a screwdriver to take the house apart aged two! I considered architecture but ended up choosing civil because of the ability to work on such a diverse range of projects and to leave a lasting impact on the communities in which I work.

Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you?

My dad is a civil engineer so in many ways, he inspired me. I also did a Year in Industry showed that I could be a good engineer and make a difference. I’ve been able to take a couple of overseas trips due to engineering and these are a significant inspiration!

How long did it take to train?

My university course was four years long which means you get the student lifestyle for a year longer than most!

Engineering is not just about maths and drawing; being able to communicate with and manage people, are demanded by employers. Therefore my university course covered a wide range of topics. It included lots of work outdoors, including a teamwork and leadership course, and group work. Engineering degrees require more work than most courses but there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy yourself.

Can you describe a day in your life?

I have not had a ‘typical’ day since I left school – every day is truly different! At university lectures are held at different times on different days which means you can have lie-ins quite often. I normally have three or four hours of lectures a day and then do coursework in between these times. I play a lot of sport which takes up some evenings and weekends. However, I always make time to go to a bar for a drink with my mates during the week.

What's the best thing about your course?

The ability to undertake lots of site work during the summer; enjoying the outdoors and the sun! On a more serious note, during my work experience everyday a new challenge was faced which meant things didn’t get boring.

Any downsides?

Some of the modules get very technical and involved. This makes them difficult to follow and less interesting than other modules.

Have you faced any challenges in getting where you’re are now?

I have not faced anything that I would class as a major challenge to get to where I am now. The student loans system, topped up with vacation work, will provide all the money you need to finance a degree. The new bursaries available will further improve this.

What skills and qualities do you think are important for your role?

Being confident in your ability to do the job is the main requirement when making decisions; especially when under pressure.

The obvious technical skills must be matched by softer skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership.

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

Take every opportunity that is offered to you; whether it be engineering competitions, site visits or talks, or just general information. It is amazing how small opportunities can lead to significant openings.

What do engineers do for society?

Engineers impact our daily lives and enable us to live – without them we would have no running water, less food and no watertight shelter; let alone the things we use everyday; electricity, cars and computers.

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