My present role is a Structural Engineer and Imperial College Research Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London. The primary goal of my current research is to shape the future of infrastructure design through enhancing the knowledge and application of advanced computational structural analysis and design.
My work is founded on experimental testing, numerical modelling and systems thinking, and is focused on striving for optimal design for our future cities so that key resources are used most effectively over their design life.
Recently, I have been recognised as a Royal Academy of Engineering Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year 2023 and elected a member of the first cohort of the newly founded multidisciplinary UK Young Academy.
It’s a great honour to receive this recognition and I’m particularly excited by the opportunity the latter role presents to advocate for engineering research and contribute to influencing policy and engaging society. I would not be where I am today without the immense support that I have had from wonderful mentors, colleagues, family and friends, and I am truly grateful. If you’re thinking about your future career – or know someone that is – I hope that this blog might encourage you to consider structural engineering as an option.
I can’t say that I always knew I would be an engineer; in fact, like a lot of young people in the UK I don’t think I really knew what being an ‘engineer’ meant when I was growing up. However, I do think I was always destined for something in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) world and I grew up enjoying maths, puzzles and problem solving.
A turning point was when my DT teacher (shoutout to the wonderful Ms Norman) said I drew and thought like an engineer, and I figured I should do a bit more investigation into the career path. I was then fortunate enough to do an EDT Headstart course at Durham University and this helped me decide that Civil Engineering was the one for me.
Additionally, it flagged the idea of doing a Year in Industry (YINI); I applied for a deferred place to university and spent a year working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. The majority of the year was spent working in a laboratory and, while not a Civil Engineering job in nature, the skills I developed were fundamental to my degree and beyond, developing my time management, communication and team working skills, as well as my independence and confidence. I couldn’t recommend doing a YINI more highly!
I went to Imperial with a pretty clear idea of how I thought my career would progress. I was very fortunate to be awarded an Institution of Civil Engineers QUEST scholarship on starting my degree which enabled me to gain a great insight into the industry and the application of all that we learn at university through three fantastic internships with Mott MacDonald.
These internships were immensely valuable and allowed me to try out several different disciplines and so realise my passion for structural engineering. However, they also showed me the clear need for engineering research in finding solutions to the growing need for fostering a sustainable, resilient and prosperous environment.
I loved my time at Imperial during my undergraduate degree and was inspired to stay on in the department and undertake a PhD. Eleven years later and I’m still at Imperial and more inspired than ever about the role of structural engineers in shaping a better future.
Physical infrastructure is a fundamental requirement for human health and wellbeing, but it is also a sector that contributes enormously to greenhouse gas emissions. Since a significant proportion of a building’s lifetime carbon is locked into the fabric and system of the structure, it is crucial that we now strive for increased structural and material efficiency.
For me, engineering combines the best bit of maths, physics and design. Engineering is everywhere and I am encouraged every day by ongoing advancements around the world. As a STEM ambassador.
I am passionate about the continuing need to promote STEM skills and the role of engineers to young learners, particularly those from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds.
I hope this initiative from the IStructE to inspire the next generation of structural engineers is a success and more young people find their future in engineering.
About the author
Dr Fional Walport is a Structural Engineer and Imperial College Research Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London.