Award-winning Bath grad goes from spaghetti to Sydney

Rachel Hayden, a civil engineering student at Bath University, was recently named the Target Jobs Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year. The Student Engineer caught up with Rachel to find out about the award, how she got into engineering, and what she thinks about female representation in STEM.

What led you to study civil engineering and why did you choose Bath?

Competing in and ultimately winning, a Channel Island Engineering Competition to build a bridge out of spaghetti when I was 15, started my interest in civil engineering. At school I enjoyed most subjects, which meant that I found making career choices quite difficult. However, as I learnt more about civil engineering, I realised that it was a subject that allowed me to be both creative, mathematical and logical. Multiple opportunities including shadowing at Geomarine, work experience at Crossrail Farringdon Station, visiting the National Construction College and completing a Headstart engineering course on the Built Environment at the University of Bath, helped me to learn more about the subject.

I chose to study at the University of Bath not only because I had thoroughly enjoyed the Headstart course I had attended there but also from the research I had done, I learnt that its focus was to prepare engineers for the industry. It achieves this through various group projects with fellow engineers and architects throughout the course and they encourage all students to complete a year in industry. I believe that actually working in the industry is a great way to put into practice the things we have been taught and also enables us to learn new practices and procedures.


What prompted you to enter the Undergraduate of the Year Awards?

I was first made aware of the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year awards during my summer placement following my first year at university. One of the site engineers happened to mention it and encouraged me to apply. I felt that if nothing else, it was a great opportunity to develop both my personal skills and professional network.

Can you tell us a bit about the application and selection process?

Initially, I was required to submit an online application form, complete three online tests and answer two industry-specific questions which enabled me to demonstrate my knowledge and passion for the construction industry.

I was thrilled to reach the Assessment Centre stage, although I have to admit the snowy weather and travel disruptions certainly didn’t help settle my nerves on the day. Luckily however, I managed to arrive at Laing O’Rourke’s offices in good time and was able to meet the other candidates before it began. The assessment day comprised of a group discussion, interview and individual presentation.

I was equally shocked and excited when I found out that I had been shortlisted as one of the ten finalists and received an invitation to the Grand Final.

The day itself was fantastic. It was great to meet my fellow finalists and learn of their achievements and experiences, as well as the representatives from Laing O’Rourke and of course Rachel Riley. As a STEM Ambassador myself and an advocate for promoting women in STEM, it was lovely to talk to Rachel about her own experiences and the work she is doing to inspire the next generation.

After a lovely meal, the awards were announced and to be honest I still can’t quite believe I won!


You’ve won an international placement with award sponsor Laing O’Rourke. Do you know at this stage what this will entail?

I feel honoured to have been presented with the Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year Award and cannot wait to begin my all-expenses-paid international placement with Laing O’Rourke. At the final, I was told by representatives from Laing O’Rourke that this placement is likely to be in Sydney, Australia starting in August 2018.

For a young civil engineering undergraduate wanting to pursue a career in contracting, it is going to be a fantastic opportunity to learn new practices and procedures, meet some inspiring people and explore a new country.

This isn’t the first time you’ve won an award. Can you tell us about the Ford Prize for Women in STEM Study?

Last year I felt privileged to win the Ford Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Undergraduate of the Year Award, in recognition of the work I do inspiring the next generation of women to pursue a career in the engineering field. In my final two years of school, I set up and managed a project called ‘Building the Future, Shaping our World’ to raise awareness of careers for women in engineering. I built a website and secured sponsorship for a local competition in Jersey, in which ten teams from different schools designed a sports venue for a brownfield site. After local success, and having obtained further sponsorship, I decided to launch the competition globally, for girls aged 11-18 to design a sports venue for their local area. Teams entered from countries across the world including Nepal, India, Northern Ireland and England. The competition not only increased awareness of careers in engineering for women but also developed my leadership, project management, IT and communication skills.

As a result I was nominated for the WISE Girls’ Award by Dawn Bonfield, the President of the Women’s Engineering Society, and chosen as WES SPARXX of the Month in September 2015. I have continued my work with the International Women’s Academy, a network of clubs whose members work collaboratively to empower the next generation of female leaders and am one of 5 global ambassadors for the organisation. (IWA Website)

I am mentoring projects across China and have set up an IWA club at both the Royal High School and University of Bath.

I am also a STEM ambassador and have visited various schools and colleges in the hope of helping to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. I have spoken at numerous assemblies, carried out mock interviews and run activities including 5 minute millions, People Like Me and challenged girls from my old school to design a refugee shelter for warm climates. I have worked with young people aged between 7-18 as well as with teachers promoting STEM Ambassadors as an organisation. Additionally, as a member of WES Bath (Women’s Engineering Society) I have participated in various outreach activities including Bath Taps into Science as well as running a variety of activities at local community groups.


In your opinion, is female representation in STEM improving?

I would say that female representation in STEM is improving and heading in the right direction, but I think there’s still quite a lot of work to do. Although the statistics show an increase in women in the industry, there were still only 11% women in engineering professional occupations and 23% in STEM occupations in 2017. It was great to see that the final of the Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year award, 80% of the finalists were females.

There is more that needs to be done however. The other day for example, I was helping with a work preparation day at a secondary school and I was told by the female students that the school were limiting construction and engineering role applications to male students only.

In my opinion I think the best way to increase the numbers of young people, and females in particular, entering the engineering profession, is through schemes like STEM Ambassadors. Their aim is to ensure that as many young people as possible are aware of how exciting and diverse a career in STEM can be. It would be great to see more engineers from all engineering disciplines and with different experiences going into schools to inspire the next generation.

Do you have plans for when you graduate, and where would you like to see yourself in 10 years’ time?

Following my graduation, I hope to secure a place on a Graduate Training Programme in order to gain more experience to work towards Chartership. In 10 years’ time, I hope to be building or leading teams to build infastructure that helps to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place to live in. I want to be doing a job that I love and find rewarding, as well as one that challenges me and gives me the opportunity to work in other countries. For the future of the planet, I also want to encourage projects to be more sustainable through design and construction.

Following on from my project, ‘Building the Future, Shaping our World’, I would also like to hope that my achievements mean I can be not only a role model for other females but also someone that promotes civil engineering as a rewarding and challenging career for all aspiring students.

Thanks a lot Rachel, and congratulations on the award!