Why I want to be an engineer (Part II): Five fascinating stories
20 March 2018
L-R: Roughan & O’Donovan's Ciara Rooney; Claire Dempsey; Caitríona de Paor; Deirdre Neff; and Elisa Longo
Caitríona de Paor, research manager
De Paor, who has a PhD, is a research manager with Roughan & O’Donovan Innovative Solutions (ROD-IS). She joined the company in 2017 after spending several years working in the oil and gas industry. When not working on commercial and European-funded research projects, she plays touch rugby with the Irish ladies’ team.
Your career in engineering has been quite diverse. How has your experience working in academia and in the oil and gas industry helped you in your current role?
My experience in academia allows me to anticipate the priorities of our academic partners on research projects, while my industry experience gives me a business focus. While working in the oil and gas sector, I actually worked on a number of projects where we monitored the motions of subsea equipment, similar technically to the Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) of bridges we are currently working on in the EU-funded SAFE-10-T project.
What has been your most challenging project to date?
In my previous role, I was asked to fly, at short notice, to a drillship offshore Uruguay to help troubleshoot software we had installed on board. It was challenging logistically, and communications with the team at base were difficult as Wi-Fi on-board was poor given our remote location. However, we managed to overcome these problems and reconfigure the software.
Is it hard to find female role models at a management level in engineering?
Unfortunately, it is. Throughout my career, I have never had a female manager and I am regularly the only woman in the room at meetings I attend. I have been very fortunate to have some inspiring male mentors but would love to see more women at director and management level.
Achieving gender parity in engineering is viewed as critical. Do you think women bring particular skills and insights to engineering?
Yes, I think women generally bring a more empathetic mindset to engineering projects, especially when considering human factors in a project, such as end-user needs. I also think having a more diverse workplace enhances the working environment and leads to a more encouraging place to work.
Roughan & O’Donovan employs some top-level sportsmen and women, including yourself and Ciara Rooney, captain of UCD Ladies’ Athletics Team. What is it about athletes that makes good engineers?
When you’re an athlete competing at a high level, you need to be organised and disciplined, two characteristics I think are also important in engineers. When working on a busy engineering project, with multiple elements running concurrently, being able to plan and prioritise tasks is key.
Claire Dempsey, senior engineer
Dempsey is a senior engineer with more than 10 years’ industry experience, encompassing road drainage for design and build and PPP schemes, turnkey contracts and small urban road schemes.
She joined Roughan & O’Donovan in 2011 and, following a period away to raise a family, she rejoined the company in 2017. Dempsey is currently involved in the tender design for the A6 Dungiven to Drumahoe Scheme in Northern Ireland.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I loved maths, physics and accountancy subjects at school and, as a student, was fortunate to visit Laois County Council’s road design offices while the council was in the very early stages of the planning and design for the Portlaoise bypass. I met its senior engineer, Mary White, who explained her role within the local authority and allowed me to look over the huge drawing sheets showing the cut and fill profiles for the scheme. I was hooked.
What do you enjoy most about your job as an engineer?
I enjoy being involved in infrastructure projects, working with the tools of the trade, such as mapping, drawings and computational programmes, and playing a role in creating something that will benefit society and the environment. Engineering is a profession that never sits still; there are constantly developments in the industry – new projects and new challenges.
What are the most common misconceptions about your job and what can be done to change them?
I went to an all-girls secondary school and, at the time, most of my contemporaries thought engineering was mainly about fixing car engines. However, with the construction of our motorway infrastructure, the design of our iconic bridges, and other high-profile water and buildings projects, there is now a greater public awareness of what civil engineering involves.
There has also been a major shift in environmental awareness and in the uptake of new sustainable and renewable technologies, which are so important in the engineering sphere.
On a personal level, it has been wonderful to see my own children, as pre-schoolers, join in the Engineers Week ‘Build it’ workshops in Imaginosity Children’s Museum and get involved in Maths and Science Week in primary school.
How can employers attract women back into the industry following a period away to raise a family?
Employers should introduce a ‘Welcome Policy’ aimed specifically at women who have taken a mid-career break but are keen to return to their profession. Additional incentives worth considering include offering part-time roles, flexible working hours and a ‘Returners Placement Programme’ focused on retraining and rebuilding the confidence of returners.
Roughan & O’Donovan has introduced progressive polices and incentives, such as maternity packages, flexible paternity and parental leave policies and so on, all of which make it easier to balance work-life commitments not just for women engineers but also for all engineers!
What needs to be done to enable more women to advance into management level positions in engineering companies?
To achieve better gender balance at a managerial level, engineering companies need to develop broad retention strategies for female engineers; offer mentorship and guidance to women as they prepare for management positions; and give young female engineers the opportunity to meet clients and form networks within the industry.
Deirdre Neff, chartered engineer
Neff is a senior member of Roughan & O’Donovan’s transportation team. Her most recent projects have included the €50 million Dublin Port road network improvement scheme and the €4 million New Street in Dublin’s North Lotts. She graduated with an MSc in civil engineering from Trinity College Dublin, after completing her undergraduate studies at University College Cork.
What is the best thing about your job as an engineer?
For me, the best thing about my job is the feeling of making a difference in society. As an engineer working in transportation, what I do affects everybody, so I need to put myself in the shoes of people from all walks of life – from the person in a wheelchair to the able-bodied person, the pregnant cyclist (we exist!) to the confident cyclist. It forces you to think outside the box and really use your imagination, which is my favourite part.
What did becoming chartered mean to you?
Reaching that milestone felt good, as it was something I had always wanted to achieve. It hasn’t changed my day-to-day attitude to working, though; I still have a desire to continue learning new skills.
What specific challenges have you faced as a female working in the engineering industry?
Personally, the only challenge I face is being told I look a lot younger than I actually am. When I tell clients that I’ve been with Roughan & O’Donovan for seven years, I get a lot of confused reactions – but I tend to get taken a little more seriously when they realise I’m more of an old hat than I look!
Can you offer any practical advice to young women considering a career in engineering?
When I interviewed for my job with Roughan & O’Donovan, one of the directors told me that every engineer should challenge the status quo and it stuck with me. So, my advice is to be bold and challenge the status quo.
Elisa Longo, graduate engineer
Longo is a graduate of the University of Messina in Italy, where women make up about 20 per cent of engineers – compared with about 12 per cent in Ireland. She joined Roughan & O’Donovan’s graduate development programme last April and is currently working as a member of the transportation team.
Is engineering a sought-after profession in Italy?
Yes and no. We have a great number of excellent engineering colleges in Italy, many of which are more than 500 years old. However, we produce more engineers than what we need, so we must export a lot of our skilled graduates abroad.
Why do you think more women in Italy choose engineering as a career than in Ireland and the UK?
I think it is probably due to the nature of the secondary school education in Italy. I attended the Scientific Lyceum for five years, and it focused mainly on technical and scientific subjects, such as physics, chemistry, maths, biology, technical drawings and informatics. While I remained on this scientific path, I was sure about my future as an engineer.
Why did you come to work in Ireland after graduating?
It was August 2016, and I was on a train reading a weekly magazine when I came across an article about Ireland and its period of growth. I felt it was a sign that the time was right for me to go abroad and find my way. I chose Ireland because it is an English-speaking country with a reputation for welcoming people.
What do you like most about your work?
The two things I like most about my job are the feeling of satisfaction I get after completing a long and difficult task and the new challenges I face every day. Challenges are everywhere; you just need to be brave (or foolish) enough to say yes, and after that you will find all the help you need to succeed.
Where do you see your career taking you in the future?
I don’t know; I haven’t consulted my magazine for inspiration yet! Joking aside, I feel lucky that Roughan & O’Donovan’s graduate development programme has allowed me to develop skills in so many areas of engineering. And, as I hope one day to become chartered, I would like to continue my path here, confident that the variety of resources available will enable me to achieve this goal.
Ciara Rooney, intern
For the past two months, Rooney has been working as an intern with Roughan & O’Donovan. Her internship is part of a master’s degree in civil engineering that she is undertaking at University College Dublin. An advocate for women in sport as well as in STEM, Rooney is currently the ladies’ captain of UCD Athletics Club.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
As a child, I was always interested in figuring out how things worked. I enjoyed maths, physics and technical drawing in secondary school, so studying engineering seemed like a logical route to explore.
Where are you on the track to becoming an engineer?
I am currently in my first year of a two-year taught master’s in civil, structural and environmental engineering (ME) at University College Dublin. I hope to have completed my master’s degree in May 2019.
What kind of work do you do as an intern?
Since joining Roughan & O’Donovan, I have worked on a variety of projects, predominantly in the transportation sector. I have been involved in a range of tasks, from engineering design and tender assessments to report preparation.
What skills do you need to become a good engineer?
An interest in maths and physics is important, as is the ability to think logically and communicate ideas effectively.
What can be done to encourage more young women to explore careers in engineering?
In my experience, many girls in second-level education are unaware of what a career in engineering involves, never mind the opportunities it can offer. I think it is important for females already working in the industry to get involved in school initiatives, such as Engineers Ireland’s STEPS programme, to demonstrate that it is entirely possible to be female and an engineer!