Civil Engineering

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Structural Engineer

Structural Engineer

Pia Abercromby, Beca

Earning: Starting salary $50,000
In a nutshell: Designing bridges and tunnels throughout New Zealand.
Why? “Engineering is so cool as you can see what you have designed actually being built.”

Pathway St Cuthbert’s College, Year 13: Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Classics, Painting
University of Auckland: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) majoring in Civil Engineering

At school Pia Abercromby always loved science subjects and had inspiring physics and chemistry teachers. “But I didn’t want to be a scientist stuck in a lab,” she says. “I thought about architecture but decided that engineering had so many more possibilities.”

She finds designing structures very satisfying, and enjoys the way she is always doing something new. “Every bridge is different, which makes my work really interesting,” she says. “The Newmarket Viaduct and the Victoria Park Tunnel have been both challenging and exciting projects. It’s heaps of fun!”

Pia says that to be a structural engineer you need to be keen to learn, and have an interest in science, especially physics, and also maths. “Not the hard stuff, but you do need to have an enquiring sort of a mind and be interested in things like just how does concrete stay in place in a bridge.”

In her job she does a lot of problem-solving, and researches strategies, designs and materials for road bridges to come up with the best – and most cost-effective – approach for her scenario. “I design bridges for wind loads, earthquakes and live loads,” she says. “I work through the geotechnical information and feed it into a computer model, then I take the output data and use it to design the actual bridge structure.”

At other times she’s onsite checking up on the progress of construction. “We design the bridge but contractors actually build it so we need to make sure it’s being done properly,” she says. “But the flipside is that site visits allow us to modify any aspects of our design that aren’t really practical and come up with changes that get the job done.”

She feels a kind of ownership of the structures she’s designed. “Recently one of the people I work for said to me that the 5 km of on-ramp bridges that I’d designed were ‘mine’ which is really cool,” she says. “I get a real buzz from people trusting me to do this job.”

Travel and meeting new people are two more things she loves about her job. “We do a lot of work in the Pacific,” she says. “And there are lots of opportunities to work in Beca’s offices overseas.”

Posted October 2011


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