Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day

23 Jun 2022

From civil and structural engineers to geotechnical and ocean engineers, we’re honoured to work with so many innovative women contributing to shaping a safe and sustainable world.

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day 2022, we sat down with some of our engineers to hear about their roles and career journeys.

At RPS, we offer a vast range of engineering roles across our business, among many others that you can explore in our virtual careers zone and our careers page.




Anna Li 

Civil / structural engineering

QHow long have you worked in the industry?

2 years

QHow would you explain your job to people?

My job involves structural design work – designing the main frame of buildings including beams, columns, any bracing elements required to ensure the building stands up and upper deck floor slabs. We are responsible for assessing building elements for different loading scenarios to ensure the structural solution we propose is suitably strong enough to avoid the structure collapsing.

The other area of my job is civils - pavement or road design and ground slabs and flooring. The build-up of these pavements, including the material and thickness, needs to be determined based on their required use. I am also involved in drainage works which is split into surface water (from rainfall) and foul water (from kitchens and bathrooms) systems. The pipe systems begin at a series of sinks or toilets for example, gradually converging as they collect at outdoor manholes underground. The various pipe diameters required and gradient to be placed all need to be determined to ensure the system flows well and doesn’t get blocked.

QWhat role can your profession play in the fight against climate change?

As civil engineers, we try to make design decisions that account for carbon reduction. For example, using local sourcing of products where possible, minimising the amount of waste being taken off site and disposed of elsewhere and implementing sustainable drainage systems where possible.

QWhat do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy seeing projects through from start to finish - especially with faster paced jobs where you can see construction progress on site visits. Mostly I enjoy working in structural design, concept or detailed, with more challenging structures.

Nancy Tonkin

Geotechnical engineering

QHow long have you worked in the industry?

18 years

QWhich career path did you follow to get to where you are today?

I studied for a BSc (Hons) in Geology at the University of Durham and then did an MSc by research in Geology at the University of Cape Town. Although I studied some environmental geology and environmental geochemistry modules as part of my first degree, my master’s focused on hard rock geochemistry. Many of the skills I learnt were related to the job though and were directly transferable.

QWhat makes a good geotechnical engineer?

A strong scientific background is essential, but you also need great people skills and the ability to work with people in a wide variety of professions. We need to work well with site investigation contractors and often negotiate with professionals at the Local Authority and Environment Agency. Being good at problem solving is key, from solving technical problems such as constructing site models to managing issues when things go wrong on site. Managing site works can be challenging, often we meet unforeseen circumstances within the ground – such as unexpected or unusual ground conditions or obstructions. Consultants have to think on their feet!

QWhat role can your profession play in the fight against climate change?

By investigating, assessing and managing environmental risks we promote and facilitate the safe reuse, regeneration and redevelopment of brownfield land – land that was previously developed but no longer in use. This maximises the potential for development of brownfield sites and minimises the need to build on greenfield (or undeveloped) sites like open countryside. Waste and materials management is another key area in the sustainability of groundworks, particularly for some of the large infrastructure projects such as road construction. The science is constantly evolving, especially around emerging contaminants and that makes it interesting to find engineering solutions. Reducing the need to dispose of significant quantities of soil to landfill and import new material is critical to minimising the carbon footprint of earthworks projects. Our team help clients to avoid material generated on sites being classified as waste wherever possible and promote appropriate material reuse.

Maria Petropoulou

Structural engineering

QHow long have you worked in the industry?

15 years

QWhich career path did you follow to get to where you are today?

I studied for a BEng (Hons) in Civil Engineering at Heriot Watt University and then carried on with my studies and acquired an MSc in Structural Engineering.

QWhat makes a good structural engineer?

A pragmatic and practical approach, a can-do attitude, and the ability to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions to complex problems.

QWhat role can your profession play in the fight against climate change?

Engineering consultants, especially if they are involved from the early stages of a project, can have a great influence on design decisions and assist in developing proposals that could offer substantial carbon reductions. 

Tayebeh TajalliBakhsh

Ocean engineering

QHow would you explain your job to people?

I advise clients on the environmental conditions, specifically the extreme conditions that might affect their community, people and assets. For every client and project, I do my best to offer the best technical approach and use cutting-edge scientific findings. I also lead a team of ocean engineers and scientists that are implementing state-of-the-art models for offshore and coastal modeling studies.

QHow is climate change impacting coastal areas?

Climate change is affecting and intensifying extreme weather and natural disasters. When the frequency and the severity of storms increase, the risk to offshore and onshore infrastructure also increases. About 40% of the world population, ~2.4 billion people, currently live within 100km of the coast. Urbanisation also results in more coastal infrastructure, which impacts the environment and coastal areas.

QWhat motivated you to study coastal hazards and tsunamis specifically?

Working on research that mattered! The first time I saw the news reporting the devastation caused by a tsunami from the Indian Ocean in 2004 with more than 200,000 lives tragically lost I thought, I want my work to have an impact in saving people’s lives.

QWhy is understanding tsunamis important?

Tsunami waves can travel across the ocean at the speed of a jet and can form a series of waves tens of meters high onto land! Understanding the behaviour of these phenomena more accurately and deeply will save lives, minimise property loss and/or damage and help us to build resilient coastal infrastructure in the future.

QWhat are you working on now?

My focus is on coastal hazards and geohazards; studying coastal flooding from sea level rise and storm surge, and geohazards facing offshore infrastructure (like offshore wind turbines) resulting from earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and storms. Understanding environmental conditions that are impacting us has been always fascinating to me!

QDo you have any advice for someone who wants to pursue a career in your profession?

I love physics and I like implementing it. Physics is the science of nature, and every day at my work I get to use and apply it. Be curious and try to find the answer to your curious mind. Make your answers simple and applicable and try to explain it to others as simply as possible. Stay connected with your interest and don’t forget why you are choosing this path

Rhona Kirkham

Wastewater modelling

QHow long have you been working in the industry?

17 years

QWhen did you first become interested in the water industry?

I’ve always had a passion for looking after the environment but my favourite subjects at school were maths and PE - so nothing related to water!  During my Environmental Engineering Degree, I started to take an interest in the water industry and began a graduate placement with a large engineering consultancy in their water project design office. Two years later, I joined a very small, specialised drainage planning consultancy called Clear, with 7 other employees at the time. Clear grew year on year and was eventually acquired by RPS in 2014 and here I am!

QWhy is drainage and wastewater strategy planning work important?

It helps water companies understand where their biggest pollution or flooding risks are and identify the most beneficial options to reduce that risk. We can account any social, financial and natural capital factors through Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans (DWMPs).

A key aim of DWMPs is to understand the likely impact of climate change (more rainfall) and growth (more people) on wastewater networks and treatment works and identify how much investment is required, so that even with the increased future pressure on the network, we can still meet challenging flooding and pollution targets.

QWhat has been the highlight of your career so far?

There are so many but all involve being part of team and working together to achieve something great! Being part of a successful bid team that cumulates in winning a framework, delivering challenging projects for clients supported by a large delivery team and attending our industry conferences like the UDG Autumn Conference. That’s also an annual career highlight, certainly.

QWhat advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career in wastewater modelling?

Our goal in the water technical division is to ‘Grow our people, help the environment and enjoy what we do’. People who want to make a difference can make a difference at RPS. Those who get on, get involved, work hard and deliver results are rewarded for doing so.

Most people probably don’t know that wastewater modelling exists as a career option! If you have an analytical or problem-solving mind, with a background in an environmental, geography, science or engineering-based subject, and a good foundation in maths, then this could be the career for you!  We take on graduates and technicians every year, so look out for our adverts.

Our Services segment are also members of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) demonstrating our commitment to supporting inclusivity.

Related read: A day in the life of a Technical Manager

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