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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

Name: Maggie Palaeologou, Senior Tunnel Design Engineer, UnPS Ltd (Morgan Sindall) on secondment at CSIC in 2017 - 2018

• How and why did you get into engineering?

Actually I chose engineering in order to avoid becoming a doctor (there’s a stereotype in my home country that best pupils should become doctors, lawyers or engineers. I did not want to do the first two, so I ended up with the only bearable choice). After this rather random initial involvement with engineering, the excitement I experienced realising that I can actually plan and control the built environment around me via my work and the provision of better infrastructure, absorbed me so much that I could not think of doing anything else.

• What is your current position and what does it entail?

In May, the company I work for, UnPS (Morgan Sindall), gave me the opportunity to lead a research and innovation project which involved working with CSIC. The project was to assess the behaviour of specific innovative materials and the interaction with soil at different depths – we were looking for a solution to enable us to measure displacements and strains during the trial.  Conventional equipment for underground monitoring was insufficient and inefficient to provide the data we needed. The installation of fibre optic monitoring equipment has given very interesting results and we are currently continuing this research.

• What motivates/interests you about what you do?

Pushing the boundaries, exploring areas nobody has worked on before and providing more efficient design is what keeps me motivated. With the current technological boom and scientific progress in the developed world, it is unacceptable for the construction/infrastructure industry to remain enclosed in old-fashioned approaches and methods.

• What/who has helped shape your career?

Leaving Greece to come to England to work definitely shaped my career. I have been lucky to work with people who are not afraid to give opportunities; I was trusted to develop new methods, to be involved and responsible in R&D projects, including the current one I am leading. I have been empowered by working on challenging projects, like Tideway, and being in a male dominated industry which has made me more confident. This has enabled me to focus on the aspects of engineering I like or suit me most. Finally, my manager’s approach to empowering young engineers is exemplary for the industry and this has definitely contributed to shaping my career.

• What have you gained from working with CSIC?

The most significant benefit of working with CSIC comes from the Centre’s multidisciplinary approach combined with having access to cutting-edge innovative systems, such as fibre optic sensor cables. The CSIC team is brilliant. Without CSIC’s expertise in providing a bespoke monitoring solution, specifically developed and adjusted to a project’s needs, it would be impossible for the company I work for to exploit our research in an optimal way. Also, at CSIC, I am not limited to only working with geotechnical engineers, but with several other disciplines. This enables me to gain a more holistic approach and view of the project challenges, which has led to more efficient solutions.

• How have you overcome challenges/knockbacks in your working life?

Through persistence and hard work. Whatever happens, one should never lose faith and give up. But this is not enough. You need friends outside work to encourage you and a good team at work. Engineering, especially in underground infrastructure where risks and uncertainties are substantial, cannot be carried out effectively by a single person.

What is the best thing about what you do?

Bringing innovation into the construction industry and connecting with institutions like CSIC is definitely the best thing about what I do.

Where would you like to see your career going?

Ideally, I would like to continue doing what I do but with a more international prospect. Developing countries requirement for infrastructure projects is a fertile field for innovation.

• What do you think might encourage more women to work in science and engineering?

I cannot actually find any reason to be discouraged from working in engineering/science.

• Do you have any advice for women who may be considering pursuing a career in this area?

The responsibility carried by engineers in a project is huge and a lot of hard work is required to provide safe design and construction. Sometimes it can get really stressful, but when it does, one should not lose confidence. The feeling of accomplishment an engineer gets at the end of the project is incomparable to anything else.