My Professional Training Placement – Ruth Carlson, Mott MacDonald

Congratulations on your recent selection as a board member for the newly formed Office for Students. This is a huge achievement!

  • Why has the Office for Students been formed and what does it do?

The OfS (Office for Students) is the new Higher education regulatory body for England. The OfS’s functions will include regulation, allocation of funding, teaching quality and widening participation to higher education. It’s all about providing a more level playing field, to promote student choice and value for money.

I’m excited to meet the other board members and learn their views. There are some very impressive people on the board and I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with them. The OfS have been very supportive and they know this is my first experience on such a high level board.

  • Has your placement at Mott MacDonald helped you develop in order to take on this role?

I think working for Mott MacDonald has developed my confidence in different areas. At university, you have time to grow intellectual confidence as you revise and prepare for hours. At work, it’s not necessarily the case. You learn how to be confident when your brain is telling you you’re not ready. You are ready, you know your stuff, and you’ve just got to go for it!

  • What was the application process for your placement?

I am privileged in the fact I am on the Surrey ICE Scholarship scheme. I had interviews before I came to University to be a part of the scheme and in first year I had about eight interviews in one day and by the end of it I was matched up with Mott MacDonald. I was chuffed, I’ve wanted to work for them for a very long time.

  • Have you had work or voluntary positions and did these help you get your placement?

When I was younger I held various positions in pizza shops, cafés and leisure centres and I was also a Young social action ambassador for the National Citizenship scheme. Between year 12 and 13 I had one week work experience at an engineering consultancy firm which gave me a flavour for what to expect. As I didn’t have any family or connections in the industry I was panicking about getting work experience. I decided to go to a talk run by UCL for women looking to start their careers in engineering. At the end of the day I chased one of the speakers and asked for work experience. She gave me her email address and I got the work experience.

  • You are now in the middle of your placement year. How have you found it? What would you say your placement highlight has been?

I love placement. I like having responsibility and working towards something bigger. I am working for the task information management team for our contract with HS2. Working on one of the biggest projects in the UK is the reason I became an engineer.  My highlight came last week. I was asked to run and lead a training session to 30+ people, teaching them how to use 3D modelling software. I wasn’t confident and hadn’t felt ready at the start of the week, but it was a success.

  • What have you learnt about yourself during your placement year?

I have always had a ‘can do’ attitude, but I’ve learnt how to apply that attitude to everything in life, even the things I don’t think I am good at. I’ve learnt some of the processes behind some of the world’s biggest projects. I’ve also learnt that I can wake up at 6:30am every day and still survive.

  • How has going on placement shaped how you see your future career?

It’s opened my eyes to more project/ information management roles. I don’t see myself being a leading technical expert, but growing into the digital world of engineering and that’s exciting to me. I have seen first-hand how you can have the most cutting edge design or perfect hand calculation, but if that cannot be communicated to the team in an effective way, you lose your hard work.  I’ve learnt some key software and I’ve been exposed to the processes behind projects. The way the project is managed has a huge impact on the profit and productivity, which I now see as a path I would like to pursue.

  • Your life sounds really busy, what do you do to relax?

I can’t deny, my life is a bit hectic. It’s a good thing I’m organised! I sometimes struggle to switch off, there’s always the tendency to do something rather than nothing. To relax; I go to the gym and play sport, cook. I also play the guitar, so do that when I have spare time and I love watching documentaries – especially ones that show how things are made.

  • Finally, what would you say to students who want to go on placement but haven’t found a position yet?

I’d say keep going. Nothing worth having is easy, and it is so true to this scenario. This may seem like the perfect time to give up, but carry on. Don’t be put off by job titles or be worried it’s not exactly what you wanted to do. On paper, you might think it won’t suit you, but this is your year to gain the skills that other graduates will not have. Be confident and keep going, hard work will always pay off.


If you are a University of Surrey student currently on placement and would like to publish a blog with us, please contact us via email on where we can provide you with further details.