Reaching new heights in engineering

Originally from County Kildare, Ireland, I am studying for my Master’s in Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at University College Dublin (UCD) and have been working at Waterman Moylan for eight months as a Structural Engineering Intern. This is my second spell at Moylan after I joined as a Civil Engineering Intern last summer to gain experience in a design office during my summer break.

I really like the environment here at Moylan as I am constantly engaged with new tasks and encouraged to learn as much as I can. Learning is a big part of the engineering profession and working in an environment that emphasises this assists young professionals in their development. Things like the lunchtime lectures, financial wellbeing sessions and the sketch club have helped me to understand a broader range of professional skills that is hugely beneficial on my journey towards an engineering chartership. This is a big reason why I decided to return to the office when it came to completing my work placement, although this time within the Structures team. I feel it is important to gain a broad range of knowledge in the early stages of my career. I enjoyed working in the Civil sector however, I also wanted a taste of working as a Structural Engineer so I could be more informed on where I wanted to specialise in.

I have a keen interest in the larger structures of the built environment. I find these to be symbols of human ingenuity and collaboration, showing what can be achieved when people work together. I have always admired the large-scale structures around me growing up, so being involved in their production is something I have aspired to do for a very long time. I particularly enjoy the design process, and this has been emphasised during my studies at UCD.

Collaborating towards a common goal

I love collaborating within a team towards a common goal and always enjoyed working with my peers for university projects or sport events in my free time. As part of one of my modules at UCD, I was tasked with working alongside two other engineers to design a structure that prompts human interaction, particularly children. This project was quite challenging given the abstract brief and that it coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made communication a bit more difficult. Despite these challenges, as a team we worked well together and made sure that our work complemented each other’s. My main role was product testing, so I built a full-scale model of our proposed structure before testing it on an alternative young audience of calf’s due to social distancing restrictions. I’m happy with what we achieved, and I even won the Design and Communications Module Prize, sponsored by Winthrop Engineering & Contracting Ltd., for my work. This project really helped to develop my thought process as a designer, allowing me to find alternative solutions to challenges which I feel will be very useful in my future career as an engineer.

Throughout my placements I have learnt about the planning process and what submissions are required, how planning meetings are conducted, the workflow of a design drawing from conception to issue and about the communication methodologies used to ensure all parties are informed throughout the design progress. Since I’ve started working in the Structures team, my main tasks include foundation and lintel design, load takedowns, wind calculations, interpreting information from site investigation reports and preparing quote comparisons. I have spent the majority of my time on two major projects, the first being the Straffan West project for Lagan Homes which consists of 65 residential units. I designed the foundations, lintels and structural schemes for each of these homes, further to completing a substructure table which required the interpretation of site investigation reports. I also worked on the foundation and lintel design for three apartment blocks for Cairn Homes in Leixlip, County Kildare, which is another residential development of 135-units, including multiple apartment blocks. I carried out site inspections to check if the structure is built to the design specification, and it was so rewarding to see something I’d worked on being built. I’ve also had the opportunity to design the foundations for a speed camera column on a motorway outside Warrington in England, which is quite a novelty for an Irish Engineering Intern.

Working examples of exceptional engineering

Once I’ve completed my internship, I will return to UCD to complete my Master’s before I intend to work towards a Chartership in Structural Engineering. I also want to live abroad for a year or two seeing as I missed the opportunity before because of COVID. I think it’s important to experience differing cultures in order to broaden my perspectives, so I’d like to work as an engineer abroad to learn alternative design approaches as opposed to the Eurocodes which I am already familiar with.

Given my interests, a long-term goal of mine is to have a significant role in large-scale construction projects that will make a considerable difference to their future occupants. Impressive structures, such as the Millau Viaduct, are what inspired me to become an engineer, and to be involved in innovative projects like that would be a dream come true. In order to solve traffic delays in the Occitanie Region of Southern France, the Tarn Valley had to be crossed and the chosen solution was to build a multi-span cable-stayed bridge – the Millau Viaduct. This bridge is the tallest in the world and a true feat of engineering. It was completed a month ahead of schedule and paid for itself within three years of opening and is an excellent example of a project pushing the limits of engineering while also being beneficial to stakeholders. I hope to be involved in projects like the Millau Viaduct which push the limits of structural engineering while improving the lives of the local community because I find both of these aspects rewarding in a career.

Improving your understanding of engineering

Looking back on my work placements and internship so far, I think it’s important to try and learn as much as you can every day and never be afraid to ask questions. Most engineers have a wealth of knowledge and are happy to give you guidance, and their experience will help improve your understanding of engineering which, most importantly, will help you to become a better engineer.

I have been quite lucky with my mentors here at Waterman Moylan: Andy Kotze was my main civils mentor and Damian Kelly has been my main mentor in structures, and both have taught me a lot about the day-to-day tasks of an engineer. They have always had time to answer any of my queries and helped improve my engineering acumen, which is why I feel internships are an essential part of any engineering course. This role requires a broad range of knowledge to excel and, while universities are adept at developing hard skills such as performing design calculations, work placements allow students to pick up skills which cannot be taught in a classroom. It is also a great opportunity to meet industry professionals and grow your network.

Michael John Prendergast