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Spotlight: Sarah McDonald, Assistant Engineer (Highways) at WSP

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

For my first job I moved 300 miles from my hometown to an amazing city.

Tell us about your career journey so far

Before leaving school, I had applied to Dundee College to study Architecture and got accepted, I had applied to college as a back-up, I did not get into university with the grades I had received. I applied to numerous universities around Scotland and I didn’t get accepted into any of them. At the last minute I applied for University of Abertay Dundee to study Civil Engineering. The main reason I applied to this course was because it had some geology modules in the course, and I enjoyed geology/geography at school. I was accepted into University of Abertay Dundee and started my four year course. The course involved a number of different modules including structural engineering, hydrology, highway engineering and geotechnical engineering. In my third year, as part of the course I undertook a 12-week placement at a local authority contractor to gain engineering experience and see what it would be like to work in the engineering sector.

After completing my university course, I got my first engineering job in Liverpool with Mouchel (now WSP). I was in Liverpool for a year and a half, working on a number of different projects including Highways England projects. After a year and a half in Liverpool, I decided it was time to come back to Scotland and I now work in the WSP Perth Office. Some of the projects I have worked on are local authority projects for Falkirk and Stirling Council, HS2 and most recently the A9 Dualling Project. Working on the A9 Dualling Project is a highlight of my career so far as I have been able to get involved in a number of different parts of the project. I have also been able to go up on a site visit there. As part of the A9 Dualling, there is an initiative called Academy9 which involves a group of STEM Ambassadors going into the local schools which are close to the A9 and doing a number of activities relating to the A9 Dualling. This allows school pupils to understand what is happen in local area. I have been a part of an activity with Academy9 and it is great idea to get school pupils to understand what the A9 Dualling is.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

My favourite subject at school was Maths as I enjoyed problem solving. Within my job now I use the skills I learnt in school to come up with engineering solutions.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

The main subjects at school that I use in my job are English and Maths. I use English on a daily basis to communicate with my colleagues through emails or over the phone and the same with clients. I use Maths skills when I am working on a project. For example, a project I have worked on recently was to design a new set of steps and I had to ensure the gradient was correct, so it was steep for members of the public.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

One of the favourite things about my job being part of a team that is designing a project and seeing it being built and used by members of the public. Another thing that is great is the variety of projects I am involved in such as designing a set of steps to designing cycleways to designing a section of the biggest project in Scotland at the moment.

What is a normal day in your role like?

A normal day in my role would be doing design work on a project, having a couple of meetings via Microsoft Teams and catching up with my colleagues via the phone at the moment.

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

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Tel: 01383 626070


Address: 2 Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline, KY11 8UU

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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