The appliance of science can take you a long way
Recruiting women in STEM Do people have to choose between a career in academia or the industrial workplace? No — some people are able to divide their time between the two.
The benefits and opportunities of a career in civil engineering cannot be overstated; it can open the door to a fascinating and diverse future. One person who discovered this is Denise Bower, Professor of Engineering Project Management at the University of Leeds. Denise is also Executive Director of the Major Projects Association, improving the delivery of major infrastructure projects and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) where she chairs the Capacity Building Panel, developing civil engineers throughout their careers. She works closely with Government body Infrastructure UK and is involved with an array of influential groups – from the all-Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities to the Construction Industry Strategy Advisory Council, shaping Governmentʼs construction policy. She has even found time to author text books, is an editorial advisor for Project Management World and judges the Wolfson Economics Prize.
Denise became interested in civil engineering when she realised that it enabled her to bring together her interests in maths, physics, history and geography in a practical way. “The more I looked into it the more I realised how exciting a career I could have” she recalls. "I went to UMIST to do a BEng in civil engineering, got an ICE QUEST scholarship and was sponsored by a civil engineering contractor. This allowed me to balance my academic, professional and practical interests from the start."
This pattern continued throughout Denise's career. After a spell working as a civil engineer on-site, she returned to UMIST to take a PhD in project management and then became the Shell project management lecturer, still working on-site part of the week. “The nexus of engineering and projects was where I really found my niche as it allowed me to play to my strengths - initiative, practicality, leadership and optimism" she says. Denise managed to juggle this with having a growing family. Eventually she moved to University of Leeds where she became Professor of Engineering.
During her 20 years teaching and building links across the academic community, she has always stayed close to industry and sought involvement in influential initiatives. "I wanted to make a direct impact" she says explaining her role on Governmentʼs Infrastructure Client Group, producing an “Infrastructure Routemap” to help infrastructure
providers grow their capability. An approach that has been applied to major projects including Crossrail and HS2.
Denise is currently part of a panel producing ICEʼs State of the Nation: Infrastructure 2014 – an influential report being launched this week making recommendations to policymakers to improve our infrastructure, ahead of the General Election.
“I wouldnʼt change a thing” she says looking back at her career choice. “Civil engineering has opened so many doors for me, and I am proud to be making a difference to the way major engineering projects are run.”