To celebrate the great work of our QEPrize Ambassadors, we wanted to hear more about what they get up to every day, and how they are helping to shape the world of engineering. Najwa Jawahar has this year been named as one of the UK’s top 100 Rising Stars for her work as a structural engineer and role model for women in engineering. We met up with her to find out more.
Najwa, you’re a structural engineer, but what does that actually entail?
I am a senior structural engineer at WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, and I specialise in the design of tall buildings. I use my knowledge of engineering and my brain power and apply them to the unique problems that I encounter on my projects.
So, how does your work affect people who aren’t engineers?
Imagine what it would be like if there was nowhere to sleep, no electricity, no clean water to drink, no good quality food. Without engineering and engineers, there would be no roads to take us from one place to another, no offices, schools to educate people, no hospitals and no shopping centres.
Structural engineers are the artists and designers with the power to build all that in their head and then use materials, mathematics and technology to turn it into reality. We help to shape everyday life for everyone outside engineering.
Well that puts things into perspective a bit! What was it that made you pick a career in structural engineering in particular?
There are two reasons behind me choosing to become an engineer. First, I have a love for heights and have always wanted to know: just how tall is tall? The second reason is that I love working with people. Structural engineering gives me the chance to work with people from different backgrounds; building services engineers, project managers, contractors, and developers, and leave a tangible mark on the skylines of the cities.
Did you always want to be an engineer when you were growing up?
I was a very imaginative child, someone with passion and desire to achieve something in life and to make an impact on others’ lives. I never felt anything was impossible, and so I never had a single ‘dream job’.
At different phases of my life, I have wanted to be a teacher, a writer, a photographer, a website designer, a business woman, textile designer, an artist. If I wasn’t a structural engineer and designing buildings, I am pretty sure, I would still be a designer of some form.
Once you had decided on engineering, was there any special training and qualifications that you needed?
Yes. I took maths, chemistry and physics at A-level, and then studied for a Masters in Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Leeds. I graduated in 2011 with a first class honours degree. After university, I joined WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff as a graduate engineer and worked my way up from there!
How would you describe a typical day in the office?
There is nothing typical in the world of engineering! Every day is different and brings a challenge of its own, and engineering is really all about solving problems.
Structural engineering is so varied; our problems come in all shapes and sizes. It could be a design problem such as coming up with a structural concept for ambitious architecture within the constraints of a central London site. It could be an issue requiring analysis and translating sketches into something we can analyse with maths and science. Or it could be construction; nothing is ever simple on site.
As a structural engineer, I must come up with structural solutions to work around the issues sites throw at us. I use computer models to analyse behaviour of structures, produce calculations and sketches, think how my design will be constructed and oversee production of drawings which are shared with architects and clients.
What is the best bit about being an engineer?
Being an engineer does come with a lot of responsibility; as a structural engineer, you can’t afford to make mistakes. Any mistakes I make could be fatal, either during the construction, occupancy or demolition of buildings.
The best bit about my job though, is that it helps me to make a real and positive difference to people’s lives. I facilitate shelter, food, education and healthcare. Knowing that my hard work bears a real purpose makes it all worth it.
It sounds like engineering can be pretty intense at times. How do you switch off after work?
I love listening to music and enjoy photography. I also love crime shows and mystery, so programmes like Sherlock Holmes, Breaking Bad, and Mr Robot keep me busy in the evenings.