Junior Structural Engineer-in-Training (CH2M HILL CANADA)
I work as part of a team of engineers to design and analyze structural components for transportation projects (mostly short and medium span bridges).
I was born/grew up in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I now live in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I completed my training/education at: Queen's University
Describe what you do at work.
For a given project, there are typical three major phases I am involved in: preliminary design, detailed design and construction. During the preliminary design phase, our team of structural engineers tackle the overall design problems. This can include determining the length of the bridge, what shape it will have, what materials it will be made from, etc. Usually, we develop two or three options to present to our client. We work closely with roadway and geotechnical engineers to make sure our different designs will work with the planned roadway and the soil conditions.
In the detailed phase, we work on detailing every single little piece of the bridge. We create 2D and 3D models which help us analyze how the structure will perform when it’s loaded with vehicles. We also use Excel and MathCAD (a calculation software) to complete hand calculations that check that the bridge is safe under a variety of different conditions. The calculations we use are based heavily on concepts from math and physics. At the end of the detailed phase, we prepare a package for our client which includes 2D drawings of the bridge and design specifications. A contractor is then hired to build the bridge based on our package.
During construction, we work with the contractor to ensure the bridge is built the way it was designed. This involves reviewing construction drawings, answering the contractor’s questions about the design, visiting the construction site to review installations and solving site specific problems with the Contractor. A typical project can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to complete.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect people’s lives?
Transportation infrastructure helps people navigate their cities safe and smoothly. The bridges I help design provide key transportation access for thousands of people every day. Working with public clients like the City of Calgary, I have to ensure my designs are not only safe but also cost-effective, so that public tax dollars are not needlessly spent.
What motivates you in your career?
One of the most exciting aspects of my career is watching something we designed on paper turn into a real-life object. On top of that, I can see the real-life impact our work has on the public. Whether good or bad, transportation projects tend to receive a lot of media attention and public interest. During construction, they can cause delays and temporary road closures, leading public frustrations. When they’re complete, they can be praised for helping alleviate congestion problems or they can be unpopular if people feel the project was not cost-effective or necessary.
As an example, the Calgary Airport Trail Tunnel project, which I spent over two years working on as Site Engineer-in-Training, was a highly controversial public project. Some people felt it was much needed and others thought it was a wasteful expense. That kind of public exposure motivated me to work in a way that could satisfy both parties as much as possible. In the end, 5,000 Calgarians attended the opening day ceremony to see what we had built. It was amazing to see how much people were interested and affected by the work we do.
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
I received a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. Since then I’ve taken a one-day design seminar and I’m currently taken a master’s level course in designing structures with Fibre Reinforced Polymers (similar materials to the carbon fibre in a hockey stick). You don’t stop learning when you finish university, though after university you learn because you want to. I set out in high school with an idea about engineering, but I flip-flopped between chemical, civil and geotechnical before settling on civil/structural. I was fascinated by how things worked as a kid, particularly how giant structures were built, like the Golden Gate Bridge or Calgary Saddledome. I also wanted to work on projects that had a tangible impact on people’s daily lives and could shape how we interact as a society.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
To relax, I like to play volleyball and soccer. In the winter, I go out snowboarding and in the summer I go hiking. I love cooking and trying new foods and restaurants. I also try to spend 10 minutes each day meditating to help me chill out and better handle my daily stress.
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
Do a little of your own research. Seek out people working in an area you’re interested and ask questions! There are so many more career options available than the narrow scope you see in junior high/high school. Finally, be true to yourself. Don’t settle for a career because someone told you to.