Career Profile – Nathan Maxwell
Wednesday April 4th is Global Day of the Engineer. Celebrate the day by reading our conversation with Nathan Maxwell, an engineer with ARUP.
1. Why did you choose to study engineering?
As a kid, I really enjoyed building things with my hands – model-making, K’NEX, LEGO, etc. – and I was always good with numbers. Engineering seemed like a way to combine both of these things into something genuinely interesting and important. With so many different streams of engineering to begin with, I knew I’d have a chance to figure out what I enjoyed the most.
2. Describe your current role
I’m a design engineer in the Bridges and Civil Structures department at Arup. Basically, we are the structural engineers who don’t design buildings! Our work ranges from the design of structures to analysing damaged bridges to research to choosing the route of highway schemes. As a design engineer, I tend to be heavily involved in the more technical aspects of work so that I can develop my technical design skills.
3. What projects are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished working on a research project that assessed the structural health of a number of motorway bridges in Leinster, where we employed a company to carry out a number of tests on each bridge; then, with the results, we used statistical analysis to predict the lifespan of the bridges. Since then, I’ve started working on a new design for motorway crash barriers that will hopefully reduce road-users’ fatalities in the long term. Once finished, the design will become the new national standard design for all of Ireland.
4. What’s the best thing about being an engineer?
My favourite thing about being an engineer is the variety of work we do. I hate the idea of having a 40-year career where every day I go to work and do the same thing! Projects only ever last a couple of years and your role in each project changes, which keeps every day different and interesting.
5. What was college life like?
Busy! Life as a student engineer can get a bit hectic and you’re constantly juggling assignment deadlines for different classes. A big surprise for me was how much group work there was, which was good because I’m definitely a people person. Having lots of classes didn’t really bother me either, because it meant less time sitting by myself in the library!
6. What advice would you give someone who’s thinking of studying engineering?
Don’t be put off if maths isn’t necessarily your favourite subject – it doesn’t have to be. So much of studying engineering is about your ability to understand problems and how they can be solved. Equally, if you really enjoy maths, some streams of engineering are heavily computational and always attract people who are good at maths. What a lot of people don’t realise is that a degree in engineering leaves them open to become anything they want, not just an engineer!
7. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love playing and watching sport, and also really love music. A lot (too much) of my salary goes on records and gig tickets! My favourite pastime is travelling – I almost feel uncomfortable if I don’t have a flight to somewhere booked at any given time! While I love going on holiday, one of my biggest ambitions is to work in parts of the world that don’t enjoy the developed infrastructure we do here in Ireland. This is one of the principal reasons I chose a career in civil engineering.