Skills Case Study: Women in Rail – Terri Seel
“Being part of a team that is delivering strategic infrastructure improvements to rail and road transport is really inspiring”
Terri is an award-winning engineer, winning both the Best Young Woman Engineer category and the overall Most Distinguished Winner of 2015 award in the European Women In Construction and Engineering awards.
What is your current job?
I am currently working on the A6 Manchester Airport Relief Road project and am responsible for the installation of 10 bridges along the route, including two rail bridges. In my previous role, I was responsible for a new rail bridge as part of the Crewe Green Link Road project.
What do you do on a ‘typical’ day?
I usually arrive on site about 7am, and catch-up with my site engineers and plan the day ahead. I like to walk the site and take photos so we can record progress and discuss any issues or problems. Back in the site office, I review the design and try to resolve any technical queries before problems arise and update our project plans to take account of any issues raised.
Another key part of my job is completing Risk Assessment Method Statements to ensure safety remains a top priority on site and I also review and amend our Inspection Test Plans. My key priority every day is to ensure we can maintain quality, safety and progress so that the whole project can be delivered on time and to budget. At the end of each day I then meet with engineers again to review the day’s progress and update the site diary so all progress is recorded and accurately logged.
What do you like best about your job?
Being part of a team that is delivering strategic infrastructure improvements to rail and road transport is really inspiring, the sense of building something tangible that will last for decades and seeing the construction puzzle come together is tremendously rewarding. My family and friends don’t quite believe me when I can point to a bridge and say I did that!
For example, on the Crewe Green Link Road project, I was responsible for the installation of a new rail bridge; the critical point was a 54 hour period where Network Rail closed the rail line for us. During this time we had to make preparations for, and move into place, a 2,000 tonne bridge to carry the existing railway over the new road.
The detail of planning was meticulous and the risk reports were colossal. I don’t mind admitting that it was nerve-wracking as the day approached but in the end we managed to get everything installed and back to normal with two hours to spare!
I also really enjoy the challenges of harnessing teamwork and good communication with colleagues, subcontractors and customers. I believe that candour and openness are vitally important to garner trust and earn respect, and ultimately create an environment where effective collaboration is achieved to get the job done.
What do you like least?
My job often requires that I work long days and sometimes antisocial hours, particularly in the run up to key deadlines. For example, the Crewe rail bridge installation was planned two years in advance, so everything had to come together over one weekend, and we can’t miss the critical deadlines. As a result, extra hours and pressure are inevitable in such situations.
What’s been your career path to date?
I took Maths and Further Maths plus English Literature and History at A level. I was interested in a career in engineering but also considered going into law. So to help me decide, I managed to get some unpaid work experience in both sectors and researched which courses were available at university. These placements helped me make my mind up, so by the time I was 17, I had decided engineering was my chosen career. I was then lucky enough to win a scholarship through the Institute of Civil Engineers’ Quest programme which allowed me to undertake a four year undergraduate degree in engineering at the University of Sheffield, sponsored by Morgan Sindall.
The sponsorship meant that I would get practical experience of working on a live project while I wasn’t studying. Something really clicked with me once I was in the working environment, I just loved it. So much, in fact, that I stayed around for the entire summer until I went back to university.
I then carried on with this arrangement for the next few years working with the site engineering team while I was completing my academic work. When I graduated in 2012, I took up the full time role within Morgan Sindall which was attached to the sponsorship. All the effort I’d put in paid off as I found I’d got the job I’d always wanted.
What advice would you give to women thinking about a career in rail engineering?
The perception that you will face lots of prejudice in a male dominated world is completely wrong. My experience has been that male colleagues appreciate and value diversity and I have enjoyed a very positive, respectful and friendly culture at work. So don’t be put off by negative perceptions, this industry is exceptionally rewarding, varied and challenging.