QEPrize Ambassador John Collins talks to us about his achievements and challenges in civil engineering, and what it takes to get you to your goals.
I am responsible for…
Fixing bridges! More broadly, I am a civil engineer with Arup, working on bridges and other large structures to make sure they stay safe.
Civil engineers design, construct and manage our essential infrastructure, including transport, power, water and communications systems.
I got into engineering because…
As a school child, I was strong in maths and science. Engineering followed pretty naturally from here.
My grandfather was a civil engineer, my father a quantity surveyor. I saw how they were involved with building things that are useful, and I liked that idea. At 16 I decided I wanted to be a civil engineer. I was fortunate to attend an excellent university and spent my summers working with engineering consultancies.
Whilst I come from a construction family, and have been aware of the work of civil engineers from a young age, engineering is not an exclusive profession. I went to a comprehensive secondary school and sought all my own leads for jobs. What I did have was a plan which I made at 16 and stuck to. At 24, I became a chartered civil engineer.
A typical day is…
Non-existent! My work is very diverse, so it’s difficult to say what a typical day is. For example, yesterday I was in a design meeting for a new steel component on a bridge and then inspecting new welds out in the field. The day before that I was at a university learning about new engineering research from artificial hips to robots. And today I have been working out how to assess 8000 individual components on a single bridge and helping a young engineer develop a career plan!
My proudest moment is…
Helping re-open the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.
On 3rd December 2015 a critical structural element in the bridge fractured. The bridge was immediately closed, and expected to stay that way until at least the new year, affecting around 70,000 journeys a day. The impact on the Scottish economy from the additional travel time required was estimated at £1 million every day.
I was part of a team who made the difficult recommendation to close the bridge, and then designed and installed the emergency repair works. We worked around the clock to complete a massive amount of work, using the latest in 3D modelling and structural monitoring. The bridge was re-opened to non-HGV traffic on 23 December 2015.
I was proud to play a key part in minimising the impact of the failure. To use my engineering skills and knowledge of bridges in such a demonstrably useful manner was very rewarding.
The worst part of my job is…
The unpredictability; the construction sector is particularly prone to swings in the economy. When the going’s good, people build. When it’s not, the work can dry up overnight. Working primarily for state owned clients on key infrastructure, the adverse effects of economic cycles are less than in other areas, but still exist. It can be difficult when work is cut short or doesn’t happen at all due to factors out of your control. However, this can also be a bonus. Whilst the lean times are hard, it does force innovation and can offer new opportunities.
I switch from engineer to father! I have two young children, so my evenings are action-packed. As a family, we enjoy being outside together: walking, gardening and exploring.
After work, I also recently completed a 20 week welding course at my local college. My job is a creative one and I get to see things being made, but to spend time making things myself was very rewarding.
When I was a kid…
My dream job was to make maps. I love maps, and always have done. In fact, my dream job is still to make maps, but as a surveyor in the pre-digital age. I’d like to have been on one of the Ordnance Survey’s trips taking triangulations of Britain. I’d be out making very detailed measurements from mountain tops on summer nights, and then spend all winter doing calculations and producing hand-drawn maps.
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