My six-month work placement: Swapping Boston for Dublin

27 November 2023

Andrew Patten, a Structural Intern in our Dublin office has travelled 5,000 kilometres from the USA for a six-month work placement in Ireland. Andrew is currently a Civil Engineering student at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, in the fourth year of a five-year course, specialising in structures.

We caught up with him to find out about his learning journey and to learn how he has adapted to life in Ireland.

I have been studying engineering at Northeastern University in Boston since 2020 which has allowed me to apply my passion for science and maths. Thinking back to high school, these were the types of subjects I excelled at, so it only felt natural to pursue engineering where I knew I could apply maths and science to real world problems.

As part of my course, we need to do multiple six-month placements and I was really keen to do one outside the US, to gain international experience and immerse myself in a different culture. When I was searching for roles, Waterman Moylan jumped out at me as they appeared to have a great reputation in Ireland and the UK, and when the opportunity arose to be based in their Dublin office, I jumped at the chance as it was somewhere I had always been interested in visiting. On top of that, they could offer a structural engineering specific placement, which is where my interests are. 

I joined the Waterman Moylan team in July 2023, leaving university life as I knew it almost 3,000 miles away. This was not the first time I had moved such a great distance; I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area which is at the opposite side of the US, however moving to a completely different country did feel a bit daunting at first.

My first day in the office was eye-opening, it was fascinating to learn about all the different aspects of engineering and what all the different teams did. I soon realised that there was such a variety of projects that I could get involved in and so much possibility to learn.

I was immediately introduced to Eoghan Loughrey who was my mentor for the placement. Eoghan made sure I had everything I needed and assists me day-to-day ensuring I understand my responsibilities and expectations. With his vast and detailed knowledge and experience, he has taught me much about design in a very short space of time.

I have worked on many exciting projects across various sectors including residential developments, education buildings and commercial schemes. The most interesting project that I have worked on was at Colaiste Rioga and Dunshaughlin Community National Schools. The two education schemes will accommodate 1,600 pupils in County Meath and are due for completion in 2025. As part of the design, two underground attenuation tanks have been included to collect stormwater and prevent flooding. I loved learning about how these would work, and I was given responsibility to perform flotation checks on the tanks and to determine reinforcement densities. I learned a lot doing this as I was designing a structure with several components as opposed to just a single member. The calculations combined multiple aspects of structural and civil engineering such as concrete design and soil mechanics, so I needed to combine different techniques and methods to create one cohesive structural design.

I have never lived and worked abroad before, so I didn’t know what to expect but everyone has been so welcoming. The office is very international, with colleagues from Brazil, South Africa, France, Spain and Poland to name a few, so it has been really good to chat with them about adjusting to life in a new country. There are also lots of social events outside of work too, including a ‘Dragon Boat Race’ competition where we rowed down the Grand Canal in Dublin. It was great to see everyone’s competitive streaks come out!

I haven’t noticed any significant cultural differences in the workplace between here and the US, people’s habits and attitudes seem to be quite similar. The change in metrics was not too difficult as we are thankfully taught both at university. However, one large difference is the engineering codes; I am taught design in the American codes back home while in Ireland, the Eurocodes are used. They are generally similar but can differ at times in methodology or symbols. I’ve had to learn whole new methods of design of concrete, steel, masonry, and timber structures with the Eurocodes through textbooks and with help from my colleagues.

Looking to the future, I still have one-and-a-half years of my bachelor’s degree left, and then I plan to do some travelling around Europe or the Southern Hemisphere. After this, I hope to work in an engineering role before potentially pursuing a Masters degree, likely in Structural Engineering. Whatever happens, I do see myself having a long career in some kind of engineering field, and my work at Waterman Moylan has given me invaluable experience and connections for that career path.

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