The final story in our series of “I’m an Engineer” blogs, features Ground & Water Engineer, Libby Bennett. Thanks to COVID Libby had a rocky ride on the first part of her journey to be a Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineer. Looking back she is so glad she stuck at it and being female has not held her back.
My journey so far
From a young age I have always loved being outside, exploring and learning about the natural world. As a child I don’t remember having a particular career interest in mind but knew it would likely relate to science and/or the environment.
A few years further on, when it came to university applications, I initially wanted to study nursing. However I soon changed my mind. Without having a backup career in mind, I chose to study Geography; mainly because this was something I’d always been interested in and was one of my stronger subjects. The second year came around and there was suddenly a lot of pressure and emphasis on internships, work experience and to start thinking about postgraduate jobs. I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do or what options there were; with most suggestions being become a teacher or researcher. With the help of a family friend, I was introduced to a small local ground engineering consultancy firm, where I was offered a few weeks work experience over the summer between my second and third year which led to some further experience following my graduation. This was a great introduction into writing desk studies, conducting site visits and monitoring and it sparked my interest in the industry.
Difficult times ahead
When the pandemic hit, I was furloughed for several months and began looking for a more permanent position within a slightly larger company, enabling me to develop further. I was offered a role in Kent, which I decided to take. However this also meant moving as the commute would not have been sustainable long term. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I moved, the UK went back into lockdown and this mixed with navigating a new job was incredibly tough. The first few months were a big adjustment, but I gradually came to love the role and got stuck in with quoting, reporting, supervising site investigations and learning to drive vans. Looking back, although it was tough, I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and took the opportunity. I gained great experience but also improved my confidence and met likeminded people who have remained good friends. Since moving to Ground & Water earlier this year, I’ve been able to develop my contaminated land knowledge further while also being introduced to geotechnical interpretation and I am excited to continue progressing.
Je ne regrette rien
On reflection, I’ve rarely felt as though my experience as an engineer has differed much from my male colleagues. There have been some instances on site where it would feel as though I have to work harder to prove myself or be listened to, however most people I’ve come across have been welcoming and encouraging. On some occasions, being petite and not as physically strong as others, has made site works tough; but this has rarely affected my ability to get the job done and I’ve always been supported in finding work arounds and adaptations. Just this week I’ve been out helping with the drilling rig and towing the trailer, which I really enjoyed and is something a couple of years ago I would not have believed I’d be able to do.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities and support I’ve had which has led me to a job I love and allows me to continually learn and develop. I am proud of the progress I have made professionally and personally; and have realised that I am capable of a lot more than I thought. The advice I would give to anyone interested in this industry is to give it a go. Be confident in your abilities and do not limit yourself just because you’re a woman.