Navigating a career in sustainability

Published 12th October 2022

After feeling indecisive about choosing a career, Conor Maher couldn’t be happier with his decision to study engineering in Dublin. With a passion for sustainability, he explains how his internship has redefined his future.

When I was 18 years old and just finishing secondary school, I had no idea what I wanted to study at university. I jumped from passionately declaring I’d study medicine one day to feeling certain that I was going to study history and classics the next. This indecision caused a great deal of stress as I was worried that I would make the wrong choice and be doomed to a career in which I had little interest. Finally, I decided to choose a more ‘generic’ degree to ensure that a wider range of career options would be left open when I finished university, and engineering appealed to me the most as it has such a large scope. It is impossible not to find some aspect that appeals to you, regardless of whether you want to work as a professional engineer, because within one degree you can choose to go into civil engineering, computing, biomedical sciences or even management. It was the perfect choice for a nervous 18-year-old, and I haven’t looked back since.

Working together towards a common goal

Despite studying maths, biology and chemistry (amongst other subjects) at secondary school, as someone who didn’t choose more engineering-related subjects on the Irish Leaving Certificate such as physics or applied maths, I was worried I didn’t have the background to be able to keep up with the coursework at university. Thankfully this was simply not the case and while I may have had to play catch-up in the beginning, I soon found my footing and progressed alongside my peers.

After studying Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at Trinity College Dublin for three years, I was offered an industrial placement as part of my fourth-year modules. This aimed to equip students with professional experience and allow us to get more familiar with the applications of our academic knowledge. I applied to three firms in total, covering geotechnical and structural engineering, but I was most impressed with the scale of the projects undertaken by Waterman Moylan, not to mention the international aspect of Waterman Group.

At university, engineering is one of the most social and rewarding degrees one could choose. The teamwork-driven learning fosters a climate of comradery and working together towards a common goal. The group projects, which were daunting at first, became the highlight of any module as they brought various friendship groups together.

Pursuing a career sustainability

I’ve always been most interested in the structural, renewables, sustainability and management aspects, but within Waterman Moylan, I am a Structural Intern. I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of overlap between my academic knowledge and the work I am being asked to carry out at Waterman Moylan. This includes element design, scheme layout and load takedown, amongst many others. In my first week, I was asked to complete a beam-to-column connection that was to be sent to site, and I wasn’t expecting my work to be used so early into an internship. I was very nervous and triple-checked everything before showing my supervisor (although a little part of me still didn’t believe that it would be used), and after a few alterations it was sent off. It gave me a huge sense of achievement.

Alongside my internship, I am producing a research project for university that will be graded upon completion of my placement in July. Since I am passionate about sustainable energy and materials, I discussed my options with my supervisor, and he suggested focusing on embodied carbon as this is a hugely topical aspect of the current construction industry. In addition to the element design, scheme layouts, load takedowns, Building Control Amendment Regulations (BCAR) document assessments, canopy and balcony design I work on each day, I am currently constructing a REVIT drawing for the Carracail site in Dublin which will help with my embodied carbon research as well as allowing me a much better understanding of the materials and overall structure of the building. My teammates Bart, Danny, Fernando, and Leyre have been beyond supportive in teaching me how to perform these tasks, so I’d like to thank them for their help.

Once I’ve completed my internship, I’m planning to pursue my interests in sustainability and undertake a specialised postgraduate course. I think the most important thing for anyone considering engineering as a degree is that they’re aware you don’t necessarily have to be an engineer once you graduate. The degree itself is so numerate and teaches so many important life skills that graduates are perfectly positioned to go into any industry, but the civil and structural engineering industry is particularly interesting for those who are considering business and management as it combines the analysis techniques of engineering, project management and client relationships that can also be seen in other industries.

Conor Maher