16th January 2020

How I became a civil engineer: Mimi-Isabella Nwosu

Assistant Materials Engineer Mimi-Isabella shares her career journey as an aspiring civil engineer overcoming obstacles and setbacks to achieve her dream.

Before Mimi even contemplated a career as a civil engineer in the construction industry, she aspired to become a medical professional. Here she tells us more of her career journey.

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 little 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.

"What course is this?"

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.

If you asked me in 2012, I would have said an engineer was someone who fixed cars.

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.

The School of Civil Engineering and Surveying (SCES) show true dedication to their students. The lecturers have vast experiences and passion for the industry which transpires through their teaching. SCES also has a dedicated careers service for the students in the school.

“You don’t know your industry unless you have worked in it.”

A lecturer who always inspired and motivated me whilst at university was Dr Lee Woods. During my degree, I went through some tough times, Dr Woods always made time to speak to me, advised me, exposed me to various university services and post-graduation has kept in contact with me. I will always be grateful for his kind words and support. 

After the support and advice of Dr Woods, I decided it was important for me to take a placement year. 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 to were budget. I never thought of the processes within construction because I only saw the finished product.

I loved being "behind-the-scenes" of constructing some of the most iconic structures in London.

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 on 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.

I successfully completed my placement year and felt more than prepared to finish my degree. My favourite module at university was 'Soils and Materials' I have always been interested in sustainable development and wanted to design and build for a better future - I knew material science would pioneer this!

For my final year project, I explored concrete technology and fire engineering. I completed a 15,000-word dissertation and a laboratory experiment titled:

"Investigating the mechanical properties of Ultra-high-performance fibre reinforced concrete (UHPFRC) at elevated temperatures"

I achieved a first-class for my project and in the overall module. I fell in love with concrete technology and its complexities and decided I wanted to become a Concrete Engineer.

During my final year, I started to apply for graduate roles. I enjoyed the application process. I felt that my placement year had put me at a great advantage as I had relevant experience in the industry as well as 4-years’ experience in the retail environment. I was invited to numerous interviews and assessment centres; I was able to confidently talk about my experiences. I was offered 5 jobs before graduation, this gave me freedom as I could fully focus on my degree.

Mimi's CVs - "I got the job"

A friend on my course asked me to assist them to look at their CV and cover letter for graduate roles. I reviewed their CV and cover letter and emailed it back to them. A few weeks later, the same friend told me that with their new CV and cover letter they had received numerous graduate job interviews and wanted me to assist them with interview coaching. From this point on, I was labelled the CV guru. Word spread of my “CV expertise” and after a few months I started a small freelance careers service assisting graduates, students and individuals with less than 2 years’ experience in their fields called 'Mimi's CVs'. I have reviewed and rewritten over 400+ CVs, cover letters and conducted numerous interview coaching sessions. I have consistently received outstanding feedback and have a proven ability to successfully assist my clients.

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'm 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.

Read Mimi’s article in full via her LinkedIn page >>

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