In this edition, Geotechnical Design Engineer, Tina Gretlund discusses her route into the construction industry and why she’s proud to be an engineer..
Engineering, the science of principle to design and built structures from ancient to modern era has always fascinated me from I was a child. I was born in Sri Lanka, where the engineering profession remains largely male-dominated, the desire to become an engineer was only a childhood dream. In the 1980s my family moved to Denmark to escape the Civil War in Sri Lanka. Denmark has historically been at the forefront of promoting gender equality in all sectors. Growing up with both cultural backgrounds was very challenging and I had to choose at early stage which direction to go in. I followed my heart. I rebelled, moved away from my family and became independent as soon as I turned 18. I studied hard and worked during my holidays, which boosted my self-determination and financial independence.
At this point I felt anything was possible if I just believed in it. Because engineering is a traditionally a male-dominated field, I wanted to challenge myself of become a female civil engineer. My dad, who was an Irrigation Engineer in Sri Lanka had always spoken great deal about Civil Engineering works and now I had the chance to become one. Throughout my education I did well in Maths and physics and it was with great joy that I entered the Studies at London South Bank University in year 2000. In 2004, I graduated from London South Bank University with a BSC Civil Engineering (Hons) degree. I was over the moon. The four year study in Civil Engineering had opened my eyes for so many areas of interest, but my main passion turned out to be “Geology and Soil Mechanics”, which is why I ended up becoming a Geotechnical Design Engineer.
Soon after my graduation, I started working for Roger Bullivant Limited as Piling engineer and Estimator for four years. I then had a spell with Expanded Limited before joining Bachy Soletanche Limited (BSL), where I have now been working for the last 10 years as Geotechnical Design Engineer. Whilst working for BSL, I have had one-year’s site experience and I have also been an internal Auditor for the company for over 6 years
Working as Geotechnical Design Engineer is very exiting, as each project is unique in its own way. Everything I design and construct are in the ground, but without a solid foundation no structure can stand up. It is therefore essential to come up with sound foundations that are in line with the latest standards, safe to build and at the same time cost effective. This can be achieved by studying the ground investigation reports, identifying potential risks, understand the client’s and structural engineer’s requirements before starting the creative thinking.
As a design engineer it is important to look at the whole life cycle of a project as well. This could be an optimised, low environmental impact piling layout with reduced numbers of piles, smaller pile diameters or re-using the existing piles. It is always great to see when your idea goes from tender stage, starts to take shape and eventually comes to life during the contract.
Every day is an adventure when you are an engineer. When a job starts on site, problems that need solving will always arise. Hitting unexpected man-made obstructions in the ground, piles out of position, concrete cubes not meeting the specified strength etc.
There is always a solution to every problem, the question is who will be paying for the additional cost to put it right. As a design engineer, I think about the safety and the quality of work as main priority. It feels great, when you have worked together with your site team, the structural engineer and the client to overcome the hurdles along the way by suggesting additional tests, relocating pile positions and or changing to different piling techniques to finish off the project and meet the programme. The whole process can be challenging but also rewarding at the same time.
Fifteen years working for piling contractors has taught me lots about piling and retaining walls. However, I never stop learning. With the rapid growth in the piling industry the urge to push the boundaries, coming up with innovative piling techniques and solutions are necessary to be competitive in the market.
My future ambitions are to get involved with exciting foundation projects and, at the same time, challenge the industry in terms of using new piling techniques or pushing the boundaries of the general design practice in specific ground conditions. I am currently in the process of putting together a number of case studies of the performance of CFA piles in Thanet Sands in the East London Area for the next BGA event. Testing is always a learning process for everybody and the only way to improve the way we are currently designing is to test and learn from the tests.
One of my aspirations is to take my two daughters for a tour around London one day and show them all the structures that I have taken part in designing and built foundations to. I would like to be a role model for my girls and make them proud of my profession.
Stepping into the world of engineering has made me think not only about the technicalities, but also made me understand how projects work from a financial and practical perspective. I chose this path because I have always wanted to become an engineer. What I have learned over the years is that people don’t judge me based on my gender, I get judged on my actions and knowledge.
There are so many reasons to be proud of being a female engineer. The skills that you develop as an engineer are very useful and can be applied to many areas of your life. Throughout your engineering career you will learn how to provide practical solutions to problems and this will give you great confidence when faced with any challenge.
Challenges are what makes life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes it meaningful.