In our latest careers interview blog, Mimi Nwosu tells us about how her current role in Civil Engineering and about the career path that has led her into her current position.
Mimi currently works in the Construction Industry as an Assistant Materials Engineer for Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.
Watch Mimi Nwosu busts some myths about engineering with Born to Engineer:
About Your Education
What subject areas/qualifications did you study for?
GCSEs: Triple Science, History and Business Studies
A levels: Biology Chemistry, Psychology and Religious Studies
Degree: Civil Engineering BEng (Hons) with placement year
10 years ago, I started my A-levels with high hopes of becoming a medical professional. A-levels were the hardest period of my education.
Still hopeful I completed my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Religious Studies; however, I didn’t meet the grade requirements to study the course I wanted. I went through the clearing process and was desperate to go to university I studied a science course I had zero interest in.
After a few months, I knew the course wasn’t for me and started looking at other alternatives, I considered dropping out completely. Through a chance encounter, I found myself in a lecture that changed my outlook of the university experience. I was invited to a lecture by a friend, without asking what course he studied, I followed him.
The course was male-dominated and had only 2 women. Before I could ask the lecture had started. The topic of the lecture was bridge design and construction methods. I made 3 pages of notes and started to raise my hand to ask questions. The lecturer asked to speak to me after the lecture. He asked me if I had knowledge of Civil Engineering and what course I came from.
After 15 minutes of conversation with the lecturer and little (I like to take risks) research, I decided to transfer to the University of Portsmouth and study Civil Engineering.
I was worried, as I didn’t have the prerequisite A-level subjects to study Civil Engineering, but I was very determined to achieve the best results and challenge myself. I appreciate the university’s faith in me. I decided to cover all the foundations of Civil Engineering; geotechnical, structural, environmental engineering and construction management modules.
I took a placement year which helped me confirm that I wanted to work in the construction industry. I completed a 16-month placement with a global construction management firm in central London. My title was Undergraduate Engineer. I worked in a multidisciplinary team of 50 and over 100 subcontractors onsite. My role included design management, ensuring all works met deadlines and were budget. I enjoyed working with various personnel and having variety in my tasks. The pressure of meeting deadlines and changing my mindset from a student to a working professional kept me on my toes, allowed me to develop skills and showed me the practical application of my degree. This experience will later allow me to complete my studies and prepare for my future career.
Did you have to undertake any further training during your career in order to progress into your current role?
Learning for an engineer never stops, I receive on the job training. Due to the great advancements in technology, I believe I’ve joined the industry at the best time! I am extremely determined to meet my goal of becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) within the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). I start the new decade in a job I love and will continue to complete the steps to achieving the life I’ve always wanted.
About Your Career
Tell us a little bit about your career leading up to your current role?
I graduated from university in 2018 with an upper second class (2:1) and accepted a role as a Graduate Highways Engineer for a global engineering consultancy. I worked at the consultancy for 11 months. I was able to improve upon my communication, technical, AutoCAD, and leadership skills. I worked on various highway projects which meant I was able to liaise with different people, attend site visits and work with individuals across the globe. However, I knew that I wanted a career in Concrete Engineering. After some research, I found the role I had been looking for.
Currently, I am an Assistant Materials Engineer at Sir Robert McAlpine. In my role, I assist projects in the UK by reviewing their concrete specifications, managing materials testing, site investigations and liaising with various departments. My role allows me to see the whole project lifecycle and communicate with people at all levels of the organisation. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors; highways, bridges, buildings, tunnels and airports. In my day-to-day role, I can be in 3 different working environments a laboratory, on-site or at my office, truly no day is the same. I actively use my degree in my role especially the knowledge from the modules I enjoyed the most.
About Your Current Role
Briefly describe your current role, what do you do?
Not many people are aware of Materials Engineering and I am dedicated to bringing the spotlight to the profession. To further my knowledge of material properties and performance I have accepted an offer to study for my master’s degree part-time in “Advanced Materials for Sustainable Infrastructure” in 2020 at Imperial College London, which will be sponsored by Sir Robert McAlpine!
Currently, I am an Assistant Materials Engineer specialising in concrete production and quality. I work on the HS2 project which is the new high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham. The construction site I am on will consist of 2 twin tunnels, a viaduct, and 5 ventilation shafts, which will be used for maintenance of the tunnel, all these structures are made of concrete.
This means that I ensure the concrete that we are using to build our structure is sustainable and means the required concrete standards, specifications and is suitable for the project. I manage the concrete testing on-site, a number of tests are completed before the concrete is made and used, to check the mechanical and physical properties of the concrete, most importantly, I need to ensure that the concrete is strong and will last for the duration of the HS2 life cycle. There are a number of testing methods to check this and I ensure all of these tests have been completed, the concrete has been approved and the concrete once it reaches the site is poured in a safe manner. No concrete is the same and all the different concretes have different testing requirements and different standards to reach! After the concrete is poured, I look at the quality of the concrete finish and offer advice for any repairs or other issues.
What skills do you need for your role?
Time management, teamwork, a basic understanding of concrete, organisation skills, communication, planning and presentation skills.
What do you enjoy about your role?
I enjoy my role because I work with material that I am passionate about, concrete. I meet so many people every day and no day is truly the same. Every day is a learning curve and on the construction site, we are all learning together. I love seeing the project slowly come to life the construction site changes every single day. I also enjoy the variety in my role, one day I am working on the tunnels (I love underground construction) and another time I am inspecting the concrete for a bridge.
Working in engineering is the best because I have been able to find my niche and really train to master in the area of concrete! Engineering has really opened my eyes to the truly wonderful world we live in, we need to work together to sustain the planet and truly build a better future.
What is the biggest challenge in this role?
My biggest challenge as an engineer would be sometimes it can be information overload; however, you have so many professionals and experts in their fields around you, who are extremely willing to help and assist your learning! I have had many times my managers and colleagues explaining concepts to me (sometimes several times) to help me understand.
Sometimes you can think you don’t know anything and are the least experienced, however, no project is the same and every day is a learning curve for everyone. The challenges from one project won’t necessarily be the same challenges you face on the next project. I constantly remind myself, every day is a learning curve.
Do you have any further career aspirations or plans?
I am currently working on completing my application to become a Chartered Civil Engineer. Chartered Engineers have gained the highest level of professional competencies through training and monitored professional practice experience.
I would like to inspire all young people to consider a career in engineering and construction, I started a mini careers service at university and would love to make it bigger by setting up a small foundation to assist young people with CVs, cover letters, work experience etc as well as going to schools and public speaking, demonstrations and workshops. I have always wanted to eventually go into research so maybe later I will complete a PhD.
How can our education system best prepare our young people for job roles of the future in your field?
- Exposing them to the wonderful diverse careers in engineering and construction.
- Linking the subjects at school and how they can be used in various careers in engineering and construction
- Inviting speakers to schools to talk about their career journey
- Construction site visits
- Workshops on engineering
- Encourage young people to ask questions and broaden their minds
- Education shouldn’t be made to seem consequential, show the importance of having a roadmap and plan A B and C. – just because you didn’t study maths and physics at A-level doesn’t mean you cannot be an engineer.
What advice would you offer to students that may be interested in pursuing a career in this field?
- Do your research (degree, apprenticeship, degree apprenticeship).
- Know your industry (current affairs, new technology).
- Expand your network.
- Grasp all opportunities – Also create your own opportunities, a wise person once said to me “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.
- Set goals, however, don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Gain experience within your field (placement years, internships, work experience).
- Attend external conferences and lecturers on topics that interest you.
- Keep your CV and cover letter updated (all experiences are valid).
- Be bold, be brave!
- It is ok to fail; failure could be the start of a new adventure.
The CREATE Education Project would like to thank Mimi Nwosi for sharing the details of her career with us. You can learn more about Mimi at: