Civil Engineering

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Structural Engineer

Structural Engineer

Sarah Neill, Beca

Earning: $48,000-55,000
In a nutshell: Part of a team that designs buildings to make sure they stand up.
Why? "I really like my job as it gives me a great sense of achievement and I feel like I am doing something worthwhile. My job has variety – I can be meeting architects, doing work at my desk or going to visit the site."

Pathway St Kentigern College, Year 12/13: Calculus, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics, English, Art.
University of Auckland: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Civil Engineering

Sarah Neill has always enjoyed maths, even when she was at primary school, and is keen on art too. So when she wanted to find a career that was quite creative as well as analytical, engineering was an obvious choice as it combines these two subjects.

In her job as a structural engineer, Sarah helps design buildings such as universities, schools, hospitals, hotels and apartments. She does the calculations to check that the concept developed by the architects and her company's technical directors will be strong enough. "There are a lot of calculations in my job," she says. "I probably spend 80% of my time doing maths and I really enjoy it. I also get to do quite a bit of drawing either on the computer or by hand, which I particularly enjoy."

The most exciting project she's worked on so far is the addition of more space on top of an eight story research building at the University of Auckland. Because the science block is already in a built-up area, an extension at ground level wasn't possible, and because of height restrictions they couldn't add that many more floors on top. So the two of the three new stories will be larger than the floors below and will be cantilevered outwards "like two wings sticking out the side of the building."

Sarah used a computer program to work out how much deflection (bending) of the cantilevered section would be caused by the weight of people, furnishings and the structure itself. "If the building deflects too much, I don't think people would want to work there," she says. "So we had to come up with ways of stopping it from vibrating and bending. Our client is happy with our design, which is great because it's been a fun job."

She's currently working on an exciting new building that she can't talk about yet. "I love my job because I get to work on some pretty cool projects," she says. "And because sometimes I know about new things happening before the public does."

In the future Sarah would like to get more involved with the concept stages. "The most creative part of the project is talking with the architect and the client and coming up with the vision for the project," she says.

Posted September 2011

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