An engineering degree doesn’t necessarily mean you will become an engineer. It’s a vast industry with roles at all levels and stages of project delivery. Recent engineering graduate, Melina Christina, explains how a degree in engineering has led to a career in transport planning and modelling.
What do you do?
I am a graduate engineer in the transport modelling team in the London office of WSP, a global professional services consultancy. I was transferred two months ago, after spending eight months with the transport planning team in the same office.
What is transport planning and modelling?
The work undertaken in the transport modelling team is mostly to analyse the impact of developments on local infrastructure. To assess impacts we use a variety of modelling software packages to carry out junction modelling and traffic simulations. We also do dynamic pedestrian modelling to study the movement of people in places such as stations or buildings. This provides information about potential capacity issues and helps architects, who are our clients, in their design work. Transport planners help developers put together planning applications by producing transport assessments, travel plans, and network analysis.
Why is it important?
The number of people in cities is increasing at higher rates. We need excellent transport systems to allow people and businesses to move around and undertake their activities. This is even more challenging in the context of climate change, as the transport sector has a huge impact on emissions.
How did you become a transport planner?
My passion is cities; the way they operate and are organised. After two years of preparatory classes in mathematics and physics in Paris, I decided to enter an engineering school in France (equivalent to a postgraduate degree), providing training for civil servants working in transport, housing, building and engineering departments. Courses covered a range of different engineering areas and developed my awareness of the challenges faced by cities. I then specialised in transport, doing my master’s degree in transport planning at Imperial College London and UCL. I was particularly interested in transport because of its structuring effect on the city and because it is both a human and technical topic.
How does an engineering degree help being a transport modeller?
An engineering degree provides a good level of problem solving skills. These skills are transferable to the work of a transport modeller who faces problems on a daily basis when it comes to model building, validation and calibration.
Why did you want to work in London?
I always wanted to work abroad. I enjoy the challenges of finding my place in a new environment, along with meeting new people. I really fell in love with London and wanted to stay after my MSc. London is fantastic: it is a big city where you never get bored, but this is combined with a local atmosphere created by the markets and low height buildings. Moreover, there are people from all over the world. From the professional point of view, I wanted to work in London for the opportunities that it offers, as you are more likely to work on international projects and attend more events.
Why did you want to work for WSP?
I was attracted to WSP because it is an international company; it doesn’t only give the opportunity to work on international projects, but it also offers the chance to be transferred to offices in other countries and around the UK as well. Moreover, WSP provides services across different sectors, which means I can interact with a structural engineer one day and an environmental consultant the next.
Have you worked on any exciting or interesting projects?
After only one month in the transport modelling team, I worked on an international project, undertaking pedestrian modelling for a massive tourist attraction to be built in the Middle East. We modelled the movement of visitors in the attraction, going through ticket and security facilities. It was very challenging from a technical point of view.
What is the toughest part of your job?
Working in an English speaking environment is the toughest part. I can’t be as quick as I could be if I was in my own country, France. This leads to a lot of frustration sometimes. But I learned to be patient, and most of all, persevering. Communication is a vital skill for a transport modeller as it requires discussing and understanding the assumptions made and explaining our results.
What would your advice be to someone thinking of studying engineering or choosing transport planning as a career?
Keep in mind that engineering is much wider than you might think. Even transport planning is not only about transport – this is what makes it so interesting. Working on transport projects requires dealing with and understanding many issues from different disciplines. For example, transport deals with the movement of people, so it is important to talk with social scientists to learn about human behaviour.
An aspiring transport planner needs to be curious and knowledgeable about different subjects, and develop their open mindedness by speaking with different professionals to understand their problems, as engineering is ultimately about finding solutions and problem solving.