Alumna – University College London
Senior Sustainability Consultant at Useful Simple Projects
It was never my intention to work in science or engineering and I was not actually that interested in science as a child – more science fiction – I loved reading about space, drawing and imagining fantastical new worlds! At the schools I went to during the 1980s, girls were not encouraged to get into science and I think everyone assumed I would follow in my Father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. However, I was very creative and good at maths, so it was suggested that I might be interested in studying architecture. At the age of 14 and after a 1-day work experience event I decided that this was an excellent idea, and that I would go definitely go to UCL – without having any idea how tough it was to get in. Luckily enough I was accepted at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where I spent 5 years studying and 2 years working in practice, graduating as a ‘Part 2’ in 2009. This was during the depths of the recession and I had little hope of finding a job in the UK. My tutor at the time, Christine Hawley, mentioned that there was an interesting MSc programme called Environmental Design and Engineering running elsewhere at the Bartlett and that UCL were offering discounted fees to graduates to help them through the tough economic climate.
What I thought would be a yearlong interlude, while I waited for the recession to pass, turned out to be a critical juncture, when my career trajectory shifted in a different direction, forever. I loved the subject matter and realised that I was good at the problem-solving nature of trying to make buildings as sustainable and energy efficient as possible, whilst still being fit for purpose. Following my MSc, I embarked on the LoLo programme, graduating with my PhD in 2016. During this time, I started teaching at UCL, both in the architecture, environmental design and civil engineering departments, and got involved in various consultancy projects about building performance and post occupancy evaluation. Since 2015, I have been working as a sustainability consultant for the Useful Simple Trust, a group of companies who are committed being a force for good in the built environment. It is a fantastic job and I am fortunate that I get to draw upon all the different stages of my education, in my daily work. I also continue to teach at UCL, whenever I get the chance (and time!).
Being a woman at LoLo was quite a change from being a trainee architect. I no longer had to make the tea for large, all-male meetings, nor be winked at by contractors on site visits (yes, really, and while they were shaking a male colleague’s hand). I also enjoyed having the freedom and flexibility to arrange my working days and weeks around what worked best for me – rather than feeling compelled to be ‘working’ between 9am and 5pm (or 6, 7 and 8pm…) regardless of whether I was achieving anything. During a PhD your performance is based on your outputs (presentations, papers, reports) and not the number of hours you clock up on a timesheet. In fact, this is the thing I miss most now that I work in a consultancy where time equals money and finding a quiet moment for thinking is a huge challenge!
My ambition is to make as large a possible positive impact to society through my work, by influencing the people I work with and by finding way to construct buildings that ‘touch the earth lightly’ while meeting the business needs of whoever’s paying for them, as well as providing healthy and comfortable environments for the occupants. I am passionate about sustainability and hope to share this passion with others and inspire them to lead more environmentally friendly lives, as well as pursuing careers in this critical area. There is so much that needs to be done to create a safer, cleaner and fairer world so I think we’ll all be busy for many years to come….
If you’re thinking about applying for a PhD then go for it – you have nothing to lose and, as well as being an enjoyable experience in itself, it can open doors and help you land well paid and rewarding jobs. I am not sure if it is realistic to plan every step of your career – it helps if you are prepared to be flexible and can take opportunities and risks as they arise. Whatever you do, don’t be too modest in your application or interviews – try to make it really clear what your skills are and what you can offer to the programme!