Tara Fraser

Tara Fraser

Chartered civil engineer and chartered structural engineer

Country: UK

Specialisms: Structural engineering

Career highlights

My working day

Working in a small practice, we never know what’s going to come into the business next.

I love the fact that I can be working on a secondary school’s collapsed ceiling or on a professional witness report for a client in distress.

A large part of the time is spent explaining engineering in non-engineering language, so that they understand the technical and feel that they then know what they paid for.

My career inspiration

I remember being given the career list book and reading through and stumbling across civil engineering at 14, and my decision didn’t change much from that point. 

Science and maths were well taught in my secondary school, and a lot of people went into science and engineering.

I grew up in a very small village in the north-east of Scotland where it was farming or fishing, neither which appealed to me. The option of studying engineering gave me the ability to move around and potentially find somewhere I belonged.

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I’m a civil engineer but I’m also … A “father”, a “sister”, a “daughter”, a “trainee psychotherapeutic counsellor”, “volunteer”, “radio presenter”, “friend” - all labels, and all unique to me.

Tara

What I love about being a civil engineer 

I never really appreciated just how diverse the industry is.

I’ve been able to experience abseiling off bridges and mast structures, inspection of MoD facilities and structures, working on airports, laboratories and so on. Each project has its own unique specifications.

We build custom buildings designed for the client, with due consideration for the site and boundary conditions. 

The civil engineering myth I’d like to bust

Contractors and sites are not a place for LGBT people. 

My experience has been that sites and contractors are far more interested in your professional delivery of projects and couldn’t care less about gender or sexuality.

I had some wonderful experiences during transition with Kier Western, Interserve and Vinci - all were very supportive.

My experience of being LGBTQ+ at work 

As a transgender person, I used my work environment to hide and dived headlong into a career to avoid having to deal with my gender dysphoria, always focusing on the next step of the ladder, putting them in as excuses - until 2012.

In that year, my world collided, and I had to start a process of change, which then meant dealing with work, staff and clients, over a six-month period.

Work gave me the flexibility to move around the UK and find a place that I felt comfortable enough to be me. I spent over a decade being two people, one in the office and another out of work.

I encountered during my transition a director that couldn’t communicate with me in any way and placed another fellow associate director between himself and me. 

Over a two-year period, I barely had more than a few minutes of face-to-face communication. This was my main reason for leaving a job position.

My experience of diversity in the built industry 

The industry itself doesn’t really think about diversity in any great detail – there’s a bit too much lip service to ensure they tick the box for tendering purposes - but it’s improving with time.

At present, it still has an image issue and needs to be considerate and think about how it sells itself to the next generation.

People have to be made aware of their own internal bias they carry, as well as the privilege they have if they’re born as a white, cis-gendered, hetero male.

This isn’t often recognised in engineering, but it needs to be considered. 

All people need to understand their own identities and privileges, as this has influenced, and can influence, the selection of staff during interviews, and not for the positive.

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Diversity in staff encourages diversity in the design. Businesses should reflect the society that we work within.

Tara

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because…

There’s so much variety. Where else can you be working inside an office and out on site all in the same day?

Thinking about the material and what’s best for the problem, while considering the costs and practical nature of construction.

Engineering is maths, chemistry and physics, with a bit of art and sketching, it really is like being a big kid being allowed to play with 1-2-1 scale toys.

What gets me out of bed each morning

Looking forward to the next problem, and figuring out a solution, while being able to work with members of the public to create their dream, or to help them understand what’s going on in their home with cracks and movement.

Why young people should consider a career in civil engineering

Engineering is a place that anyone can work in.

It may, however, take time to find the right organisation that can deal with diversity.

If a business can’t or doesn’t celebrate diversity, give it a wide berth. In time, they’ll see it affect the bottom line.

You only need to work for those that respect, understand and accept diversity and difference.

My favourite projects

St Pancras Station Barlow Shed roof refurbishment

Diamond Light Source in Oxford

Mortuary, Histology and Pathology Department at Royal United Hospitals Bath

Medical facility at RAF Brize Norton

Ministry of Defence (MoD) projects: Andover new buildings, Pirbright Storage facility, medical facility at Brize Norton, Bomb blast wall design at Woolwich.

Education

I did a mixture of science and art subjects at school, then a degree in building and civil engineering at the University of Dundee, followed by a postgraduate diploma in concrete technology, construction and management.

My advice is to learn about anything and everything, as you never know how the skills you learn on one type of structure will transfer to another. And don’t put up with mediocre training. Take control of your own career, as no one else is going to.

I want to become a civil engineer.

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