Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Pamela Welburn

Pamela Welburn

Pamela WelburnI am an Engineering Geologist with over 18 years' experience currently working at Arcadis as a technical specialist.  This year I am pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an Engineer by participating in a programme called Remote Year.  As part of this programme, I am traveling with 65 other people of different nationalities and from various occupations. Each month we live and work in a different city around the world, starting in Valencia, Spain and ending up in Santiago, Chile.  During this time I am still undertaking my normal day to day role providing technical advice on a wide variety of projects at Arcadis, working within the UK team but with the added benefit of traveling and getting involved in a number of community based projects.  We are currently 2 months into this unique experience and the challenges and rewards are not as I would have imagined them to be when I started.  I am learning so much from working alongside people from other industries and getting involved in community based projects. There are very few engineers who are currently working remotely but signs are that this possibility will be open to more people in the future.  For more information take a look at http://www.remoteyear.com/

My career has obviously developed over time to enable me to be in a position where I can successfully work remotely on what is traditionally a very hands-on profession.  My first interest in an engineering career started during my school work experience where I was introduced to the site investigation profession.  This focused my attention at an early age to getting into scientific/engineering occupation and, more importantly to me at the time, one that involved outdoor work.  After obtaining a BSc in Geology and MSc in Engineering Geology, I started working for a small site investigation company where I undertook a significant proportion of the site work but also gained experience in the geotechnical interpretation of the collected site data. The geoenvironmental industry was still in its infancy and I found that my chemistry 'A level' knowledge was put to good use in helping this small company adapt to this rapidly changing industry. I found that I had a passion for new technical challenges and was at an early stage in my career tasked with reading and implementing new guidance.  I read a huge amount of guidance documents which enabled me to have a very rounded and broad knowledge of geotechnical and environmental assessments as well as more niche areas such as ground gas assessment and waste classification. 

After gaining my Chartered Geologist qualification I decided to move to a larger consultancy and joined Arcadis in 2005.  At first I was involved in running the redevelopment programme for a large petroleum company who were redeveloping a large number of their petrol filling stations across the UK.  This programme involved the handling of multiple sites (often approaching 100 in number) simultaneously from the initial site investigation, through to full scale remediation.  My combined knowledge of environmental, geotechnical, ground gas and waste classification was used on a day to day basis. At this stage in my career I became more office based, managing a large team of site consultants.

Over the last few years I have become more of a technical specialist at Arcadis, working on a wide variety of new and innovative projects, several of which have won Brownfield Briefing awards. I have also acted as an Expert Witness which has fully tested my technical knowledge.  I still enjoy the challenge of the new and my current role enables me to further develop my technical skills.  I have presented at several conferences and in 2011 was the lead author for the CIRIA publication C716 'Remediation and mitigation of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) vapours from land affected by contamination'.  Other projects I have been involved in have included:

  •  The design of a zero valent iron barrier within fractured chalk bedrock in France to treat chlorinated hydrocarbons in groundwater;
  • Assessment of a landfill site that is subjected to coastal erosion;
  • Design of an impermeable capping layer at the former Buncefield Oil Depot to prevent water infiltration and leaching of contaminants;
  • Assessment and remediation of a former pharmaceutical landfill site with over 900 different contaminants enabling the treated material to be reused and the site redeveloped; and
  • Analysis and assessment of waste samples on behalf of the Environment Agency waste crime team to assist with prosecutions.

Each of these projects has utilized skills that I have developed over the years.  You never stop learning as an engineer and it is this aspect of the job that I particularly enjoy.  Every job is different which means that each day can be a new challenge.  At Arcadis we have the opportunity to decide which direction our career takes.  People can focus on project management role, technical roles, client development or a combination of two or more.  This means that people are able to focus on the aspects of the job that interests them the most.  No-one is the same and there are a wide range of different job roles that are available to engineers. 

This year with the new challenge of working remotely around the world I am being inspired by people in completely different industries.  I am writing this while working in our office in Rabat, Morocco where we are meeting many local people, several of which are involved with new start-up companies.  We are also trying to give back to the communities by getting involved in charity work and also hosting talks on a wide range of subjects.  I have had the great privilege of talking at the first RYx event on the subject of sustainability.  The RYx events have been completely developed by the people I am traveling with including all the videos and web design.  The results can be viewed at http://ryx.herokuapp.com/.

For further information my LinkedIn profile can be viewed here: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/pamela-welburn-36884340


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