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Spotlight: Kai-Brith Kalda, Structural Engineering student at the University of Edinburgh

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I am from Estonia – a tiny country of only about 1.3 million people.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I’m currently studying a joint degree of Structural engineering and Architecture at the University of Edinburgh and I’m about to go into my penultimate year. I chose this degree at first because of its diverse selection of courses taught by two different schools – the school of engineering and the college of art.

For the last 4 months I’ve also had an amazing opportunity to work for an Estonian civil engineering company KMG Inseneriehituse AS. I am part of an engineering team working on a major development project at Tallinn International Airport. This experience has been a great challenge and exciting opportunity and forced me to keep learning every single day in order to keep up with the fast pace of the engineering project. I am thrilled to continue working on this project remotely during the upcoming school year.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

In school my favourite subject was probably math. I’ve always loved the feeling you get when you finally figure out a difficult problem. The rewarding feeling is amazing when you’ve spent hours and hours trying to find a solution and then it finally clicks!

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

It is common understanding that math and physics are useful in engineering and it is true, they are! But I believe that creativity and good communication skills are just as important. As an engineer you have to be able to work with others, because the best solutions are figured out through successful teamwork.

In my very first lecture in the university, the lecturer quoted Dr A. R. Dykes “Engineering is the art of modelling materials we do not wholly understand, into shapes we cannot precisely analyse, so as to withstand forces we cannot properly assess, in such a way that the public has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance.” There is never one single correct solution because nothing can be calculated precisely. And this is where the creativity comes in. You have to be willing to look outside the box and be open-minded.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

My favourite thing about engineering – both studying and actually working on a project – is the creativity of it. You get to figure out a solution for some real problem and then see it being built! At school I mostly enjoy the projects, where we are given a lot of freedom in terms of technology, material, etc and we have to work through the problem as a professional engineering team. We often have tasks that imitate real world situations that you would face on the work field.

During the summer, when I was spending my days at the site office of the Tallinn Airport project, my favourite moments were the discussions with my teammates. When a difficult problem came up, we would have a brainstorming meeting, where everybody would present different ideas. Sometimes there was no perfect solution and we had to come back to the topic again and again. It may sound frustrating but this is also the beauty of engineering for me – being able to work out interesting and often unusual solutions. The harder the work process, the more rewarding the end result.

What is a normal day in your role like?

At university my days are normally made up of lectures, project classes, tutorials and independent study. There are not that many contact hours a day, usually around 2-4, but you have to put in a lot of independent work. Outside the contact hours you are expected to do further reading, work on tutorial questions and meet up with your assigned groups to work on the group projects. If you are planning to study engineering at university then you have to be willing to work hard and be disciplined.

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

A fun project that we had during my second university year, was to build a paper tower. The tower had three goals:

  • To be strong enough to carry a big chocolate cookie on the top third of the tower

  • To be as high as possible

  • To be as economical (use minimum amount of paper sheets) as possible.

Bonus points were given for aesthetic value

To make this project more life-like, we had to produce the design drawings before the construction started. We also had to “order” the materials beforehand, so we were to write down exactly how many pieces of papers we were going to use, and how much tape or glue we required.

I believe this would be a fun challenge to try for anyone. Go ahead and make your own Project Documentation before you start cutting the paper. Make the preliminary design drawings and material count. It will be fun to see afterwards how similar your actual tower turns out to be to the drawings and whether you predicted correctly how much material you require.

You probably have some questions or clarifications about this task, but this is usually what happens with engineering problems. You never have all the required data or answers. You need to make some assumptions and come up with a creative solution.

You can find some ideas for possible paper towers from the link below, but I encourage you to come up with your own interesting solution. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

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The UK-wide STEM Ambassador programme is managed by STEM Learning Limited, which operates the National STEM Learning Network, alongside other projects supporting STEM education. To find out more please go to the STEM Learning website