Sarah Breen - Senior Engineer, Project Management - Ove Arup and Partners Ltd.

Issued: Mon, 07 Sep 2020 00:00:00 BST

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I was privileged to be part of a team project at university where we designed an experiment for NASA and then tested it on their microgravity airplane (affectionately nicknamed the ‘vomit comet’) so I know what it feels like to be weightless.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I studied Engineering Science at a small, women’s college in the USA called Smith College.  It was the first programme of its kind in the country and I was one of the early graduating classes.  My third year at university I studied abroad at Glasgow University and began my connection with Scotland. 

When I finished my degree in 2006, I applied for a job at Arup in their building structures department and managed to get a position in their Glasgow office. I moved my life from Boston over to Glasgow and spent my first two years working on building projects in and around Glasgow and wider Scotland.  At that point I was offered a change of role to assist the team delivering the Forth Replacement Crossing (FRC) project outside Edinburgh which meant a move from structures into infrastructure. 

I was on the FRC project for nearly ten years working in the project management department with a huge multi-disciplinary consulting team (comprised of staff from Arup and Jacobs) and alongside our client Transport Scotland.

When the Queensferry Crossing opened I moved back into the Glasgow office, but now staying in infrastructure and have been working on large scale civil projects ever since.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I really loved physics at school. I liked the idea of having a way to describe and predict how things around me should behave using math.  I always enjoyed more practical applications of math that resulted in something I could see or touch rather than being purely theoretical.

What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?

Having a firm grounding in maths and physics is definitely useful for my role applying to a base understanding of engineering fundamentals.  More latterly in my career I have relied more heavily on my writing and communication skills as well as you find working with people in the real world, if you can’t get your point across accurately and be fully understood, it doesn’t matter how clever your idea is.

What is a normal day in your role like?

I spend most days checking in on the projects I’m responsible for, finding out whether we think our targets for delivery are achievable based on progress, and reporting to clients about how their works are going.  It requires a lot of coordinating information between many people, all of whom have different priorities or focuses for their own part of the project. 

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I like working with people and problem solving issues.  Project management is about keeping track of progress and costs in trying to achieve a project delivery goal, and trying to anticipate where problems might arise and how they can be solved along the way by putting the right people in place to solve them.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work? 

I don’t have a particular resource, but I could think of a situation where students could essentially project manage their household chores for a week.  Parents are the clients who have a vision of what they want to achieve.  They agree a price for the delivery of each item and the students have to provide a programme demonstrating when each task will be delivered and agree the mechanism by which success will be measured and payment made.  Obviously they could always negotiate for a partial payment in advance for mobilisation costs


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