Dr Nicole Jean is a Public Health Design Engineer at Mace. Of Saint Lucian origin, she completed her BEng in Architectural Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, returning a year later to commence her PhD in Construction, and is now based in London.
When Nicole graduated from Heriot-Watt University in 2009 she went to work as a graduate electrical engineer. In 2015 she re-entered the industry in this same discipline and in November (of that year), once her PhD was completed, she moved over to public health engineering. This move was fuelled by her research, and her passion for designing safe internal environments.
National Women in Engineering Day 2016 is of special importance this year to Nicole, as it is her Doctoral Graduation Day. We’re sure that you will join us in offering congratulations to her today!
What got you interested in engineering?
My early academic loves were technical drawing and mathematics. These subjects led me to complete an Associate Degree in Architectural Technology, where I discovered building services. It was then that the tug-of-war between architecture and engineering began. The open day visit to Heriot-Watt University in February 2005 introduced me to the science behind creating built environments. It became clear after this visit that engineering was winning. Still not convinced though that my need for design and creativity would be fed, I told myself “it’s just for now”. Today, eleven years later, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Where did you study?
I completed my BEng in Architectural Engineering from Heriot-Watt University. This degree covered acoustics, lighting, sustainable building design and environmental modelling, along with mechanical, electrical and public health design. My undergraduate dissertation provided the introduction to public health research, and when the opportunity arose, I returned to Heriot-Watt University to commence my PhD in Construction.
What’s the most notable project you’ve ever been involved with?
My two most notable projects are Blue Coral in St. Lucia, and the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England.
Blue Coral, a 1960s building, was my first commercial and renovation project. I went from reading about its Caribbean competition prize-winning, to working in both the Design Consultant’s and Building Services Engineer’s offices over three summers.
Designing and solving problems lies at the heart of my attraction to this industry, and Blue Coral provided me my first glimpse of a multi-disciplinary creative process. I sat as the engineer in the architecture studio and was driven with grand ideas for this building. Though I’m left with thoughts of what could have and should have been, I like to think that the exposure to such a passionate design environment, influences my work to this day.
The Mary Rose Museum is one of my most notable due to its historic significance. The high standard demanded of this project by the client and members of the team provided a fantastic learning opportunity. I am proud to have been briefly involved.
What’s the tallest building you’ve been involved with?
My tallest would be a multi-storey housing project in London, where the tallest structure was 8 or 9 storeys.
Have you been involved in any projects where the Studor System has been installed?
Unfortunately I worked as an Electrical Engineer on this housing project. It would have, however, been a great opportunity to use the P.A.P.A. in the PH design!
What specific skills or attributes do you feel that women bring to engineering?
I believe women bring to engineering the uniqueness and skill which we individually possess. It’s difficult to say one attribute which all women possess, but increased gender balance may allow for innovation, as well as facilitate better ways of managing, communicating, working and collaborating with other members of a multi-disciplinary team. All of which are advantageous elements for delivering a successful project.
Women constitute a small percentage of engineers versus men. What advice or thoughts can you give to women thinking of studying or training to become engineers?
My advice to women who are thinking of studying or training to become engineers is to work hard and believe that you are good enough. Take the opportunities which are given to you and read subjects outside your specialty. Ensure that you have a breadth and depth of knowledge. Do not be intimidated by the room full of men which you will walk into regularly. We are all people and they are, more often than not, happy to see you. Become the best engineer that you can be, and ensure that your work speaks for itself.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I enjoy photography, crafts, reading and exercising either through the gym, or socially by playing squash. I also travel a couple times a year to the Caribbean. This year I’ve visited St. Lucia, Trinidad and Barbados. If I can find the time, I’d love to join a steel pan orchestra and rediscover my love for double tenor.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done?
I thoroughly enjoy a good laugh and, with very light-hearted effort, I have discovered that I am not averse to creating the situation for it. A very close friend regularly says “only you Nicole”, and one of my nicknames as a child was given to me simply because I was the most mischievous. All I will say is this – in my younger days, I maybe too often – fully embraced the dare…