Women in Engineering
Leanne says she loves adventure. She describes her educational journey and explains what her work as an engineer designing building structures entails. She loves the challenges and excitement of working in a small design enterprise where she gets involved in every aspect of the business.
When I was younger I thought I wanted to be an architect. Ever since I was a child I would repeatedly draw plans of what my ideal house might look like. I loved art and often spent my free time drawing pictures and sketching. I’m not sure where my interest in architecture/engineering came from. I had a fantastic childhood with two great parents who always encouraged me to do my best. They didn’t put unnecessary pressure on me and never tried to influence my career path. My brother became an accountant and my sister a chef, both very different to engineering.
When filling out the CAO form I put Architecture as my first choice and Civil Engineering as my second. At the time I didn’t really know what an engineer did but knew that they worked with architects and on building sites. I put together a portfolio as part of my application to Architecture in the University of Limerick, but unfortunately as demand was high, mine wasn’t successful. I let this discourage me and didn’t put as much effort as I should have into my Leaving Cert. Because of this I didn’t get enough points for Civil Engineering in UL, but luckily I did for LIT. Little did I know at the time that my architecture portfolio being unsuccessful and not getting enough points for Civil@UL were two of my biggest blessings in disguise.
I was just two months into first year of college when I found out that I was pregnant. This was the kick I needed to focus on my studies. All of a sudden it wasn’t just my own future that I had to worry about. I wanted to do well, have a good career and most importantly be a good role model for my little boy. I got focussed and found that I did quite well and I enjoyed the course a lot. I began to realise that engineering had been the path for me all along.
In LIT there was more emphasis put on the practical side than on theory, which made it very hands on and interesting. Out of 72 students that started Civil Engineering in first year, just three of us were girls. I went to an all-girls secondary school so this was a big change. At the beginning of third year, I applied for a transfer to UL to finish my studies. I met with the course director and found out that if I graduated from my Level 7 course with a distinction I may be offered a place in second year in UL. At the time this seemed like yet another setback. I spoke to a student who had already made the transfer and I went to a presentation that third year Civil@UL students were giving. I was blown away by the course work that they had done and decided that losing two years would be worth it to get to that point. I had one goal and that was to ace my studies in LIT, and I did. I not only graduated with a distinction but also earned the two awards available to my course at my conferring ceremony.
I’m not going to lie. The three years I spent at UL were tough. There were lots of late nights and all-nighters, which wasn’t easy with a young child. But this made it clear that I had been on the right path all along. If I had gotten straight into Civil@UL I wouldn’t have been able to stay on top of course work and care for a young baby at the same time. He had grown to be a toddler by the time I transferred to UL, so with a great support system furthering my studies in UL was manageable. The material and assignments there were far more theory based but also very true to scenarios that a consulting engineer may face. I regularly turn to my notes from UL when doing calculations and analysis in work. I worked hard and graduated with a 1.1 honours degree.
When I graduated, the company I did my placement with-PHM Consulting- asked if I would be interested in returning to work with them full time. I didn’t have to think twice about the answer to this and jumped at the opportunity to re-join the team. I have been with them for two years since qualifying and have been fortunate enough to have worked on a range of different projects in both the civil and structural areas. One day I could be in the office doing calculations and producing drawings for a housing development or a school, the next I could be in Waterford carrying out a dilapidation survey, the following week I could be doing a site inspection in Tipperary or attending a course in Dublin or Cork as part of my CPD. That’s one of the great things about my job, there is so much variation and you never know what you might be working on next.
Whenever somebody asks what I do and I tell them I’m a Civil Engineer, I tend to get the same reaction. A shocked face and “Oh wow”. It’s one of the last things that people expect. I am often greeted with surprised faces when I visit a site for the first time too. But as soon as you show that you know what you are talking about and make it clear that you aren’t a pushover then the respect goes both ways.
It’s funny, whenever my son hears the word engineer or engineering, he instantly jumps up and says “My mam’s an engineer. Aren’t you mam!”. It’s lovely to hear because I can see how proud of me he is and it makes all of the hard work worth it. He said that he likes watching programmes like ‘Grand Designs’ or ‘Room to Improve’ with me because he gets ideas for houses to build with his Lego. He regularly asks what I’m doing in work at the moment and loves when we drive past sites of projects that I have worked on.
I’m still constantly sketching my ideal house plans, and looking forward to the day that I can be the engineer for my own house. I plan to do a masters in the future and become chartered, but for the moment I’m enjoying learning and gaining valuable experience. I have learned not to dwell on the speedbumps along the way. My journey so far has been proof that what is for you won’t pass you by. Be open to all possibilities available to you and don’t let other people’s perceptions put you off. If you want something enough, then with hard work and determination the sky is the limit.