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A chat with Caroline

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Meet Caroline! She’s a Queen’s civil engineering grad and after working for several years in the industry as a geotechnical engineer, she’s now pursuing her Master’s in civil engineering at Queen’s.

Our marketing/events coordinator, Kathy, got to chat with her about her experience working as a geotechnical engineer and her transition back to school.

K: Could you give a little bit of background on yourself?

C: I graduated from the Queen's civil engineering program in 2013. Then right after graduation, I moved to Victoria and I started at Thurber Engineering in the Victoria office working mostly as a geotechnical engineer and was working there for about seven years, up until August when I started grad school. Right now, I’m doing my Master’s in civil engineering (Geotech) and I’m working on a project on frost heave and soil consolidation with Professor Andy Take and Professor Greg Siemens from RMC.

K: You’ve worked in industry for several years and have now made the transition to academia, could you tell me more about how that’s been for you?

C: As far as why I made the transition, I’m hoping to challenge myself and accelerate my professional and personal development so I can more valuably contribute to projects I’d be doing at my company and in the community. Now I have time to learn in a more technical zone and research without getting interrupted by phone calls and emails. It’s also given me the opportunity to talk to some of the most knowledgeable people in the field; just having that space to ask questions is not something you necessarily get in industry.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I got from people when I was thinking about pursuing my grad school, especially with a research-based Master's is that you have to really like your project. And also, equally as important, is your supervisor. It was really important to me to find a supervisor that I liked working with and finding a supportive environment. That’s been my experience at Queen’s- you're not just a number or just a student, they do remember who you are, and they put a face to the name.

K: How did you choose Engineering as a field of study and why did you choose your discipline?

C: My dad was a Mining Engineer, he did Mining Engineering at Queen's, and he suggested it to me. When I was applying to schools, I liked science and math, and wanted something more practical that had a bit more of a set career path.

And then as far as why I chose Civil, I liked the practicality of it and I also liked the options that civil provided. It goes from structural to environmental, and everything in between.

It was my summer job I got after my first year that sparked my interest in Geotechnical Engineering. I did environmental consulting for that first summer, doing remediation projects of leaking tanks. I got to see what was underground when they excavated soil, and I had a fascination with that. When I found out that you could actually study soil, I thought “Oh, that’s cool!”.

K: Why do you think mentorship is important for young women in STEM?

C: You get to see the different options in any industry, whether it's STEM, or banking, or medicine. You can see where you can go, how they've gotten there and how they are as a person. Mentorship also gives you a safe space to practice your communication in a professional setting, that you wouldn't normally have the option to have in industry. You can also pick someone's brain about how to approach different situations. I know, for myself, I’ve had to go through some difficult conversations and had to deal with unpleasant situations, especially managing difficult personalities on construction sites, and it’s nice to have someone who you could talk to about it and who understands.

It’s also nice to see other woman balancing career and family. Like my old manager, she was a Queen's engineering grad with her PhD and was the first female to take on certain senior roles in our company while having a young family. So it's nice to see someone do it and know that you can do it too.

K: Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self (i.e. during university, at the beginning of your career)?

C: One of the things I wish I knew coming right out of school, is that you don't have to know everything. If you're asked to do something, it’s okay to ask questions. It’s better to just ask the question initially, and it could save you hours of being confused, not knowing what to do.

Another thing would be that everything doesn't have to be perfect, which I struggled with at the beginning of my career. Especially with writing reports and doing analysis. I felt like I had to do everything perfectly before presenting something to the review engineer instead of doing something kind of interim and getting feedback.

Another thing is that your first job doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't define your whole career. So don’t stress out about finding the perfect job in the perfect industry, and the perfect role.

All experiences are good experiences. Sometimes the worst experiences you have give the best stories and you learn the most from them even if at the time they feel awful. You often learn more from the mistakes and challenges than you do if everything's going perfectly.
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