Miriam Graham, member of the IStructE Humanitarian and International Development (HID) Panel
Date published

7 March 2024

Miriam Graham, member of the IStructE Humanitarian and International Development (HID) Panel

Date published
Career Profiles
Date published

7 March 2024

Miriam Graham, a structural engineer at Arup and a member of the IStuctE Humanitarian and International Development Panel, explores her motivations and experiences as a structural engineer and how her career reflects our responsibilities for both people and planet.

The potential for transformation

My career motivation has always been to use my skills to make a positive difference, for people and planet, creating tangible, socially useful outcomes. 

Our profession is responsible for a staggering impact on the environment, and I take my responsibility for those impacts seriously, advocating for decreasing embodied carbon as far as possible. I am both daunted by the scale of change needed by the industry and excited by the huge potential for positive transformation. 

From Sheffield to Rwanda – Projects with a Socially Useful Outlook 

From local Sheffield development projects to international development, I love working on projects which deliver socially useful outcomes, creating a tangible positive impact. My work has included a wide variety of building typologies and uses such as a community hub, a centre for music education, and micro hydro power in rural communities.
One of my favourite projects was through Arup’s long-term partnership with Bridges to Prosperity, where I was the corporate construction manager for B2P’s Cyabami bridge in Rwanda. I then continued working with B2P, leading the technical development of embodied carbon assessment for their repeatable bridge designs, transferring knowledge and providing B2P with a toolset to assess their carbon factors and embodied carbon for their projects.

These projects have all taught me more about the importance of engaging well with local communities and those you work with, using development to empower each other which in turn generates lasting outcomes - particularly when working in development settings. 

It’s a collective challenge

Throughout the various work I’ve undertaken, I’ve been a firm believer that generating knowledge and sharing this widely to build each other’s capacity is vital to overcoming global challenges together. This led me to Arup’s structural engineering sustainability hub where my leadership role now involves generating and sharing knowledge in a way which allows structural engineers to upskill rapidly and practically apply this knowledge to projects. For example, researching how structural engineers account for resource constrained materials, such as GGBS and recycled steel, where the supply of a fully utilised resource cannot be increased and so use on one project will simply mean it is not used on another. 

Similarly, through my work as part of the IStructE Humanitarian and International Development panel, who look to advance and share knowledge, I have developed and published a structural engineer’s resource map presenting key links in the sector, which you can find here (https://www.istructe.org/resources/guidance/hid-resource-map/). I’d love for more engineers to engage with resources like this, proactively upskilling and being generous in their knowledge with a collective purpose.

Enabling others to be introduced to, explore and experience our industry

Alongside sharing knowledge with other engineers, I see that change is needed to deliver more effective careers education and support to young people in the UK. I now lead the social value and community engagement careers education interventions for the Arup Sheffield Office, where I have developed and implemented a new kind of careers education strategy, centred on an ‘introduce, explore, experience’ framework. The strategy is designed to both reflect a student’s progressive approach of discovering career options and to maximise the efficiency and impact of Arup’s available resources. From this, the UK-wide Careers and Enterprise Company have taken the experience-led tiered education framework as the basis for their national employer engagement strategy, which is exciting!

What’s next?

You just have to look at the sustainable development goals to see the challenges we face in both tackling the climate emergency and overcoming global inequality. I enjoy working at the interface between the two, finding the best solutions to be practically implemented to create a more sustainable future. In the next year I’m looking forward to continuing my focus in structural decarbonisation, working with the University of Sheffield to research the next steps for embodied carbon and circular economy policy. I’m also excited to continue my work in low-income community development through a site placement with one of Arup’s long-term partners the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh, India, a school which provides quality education for students in remote regions of the Himalayas.
Also see: A Q&A with Miriam Graham; The Structural Engineer


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