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Working lives Shona Cooper

Shona Cooper, 27, is assistant public relations officer at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Route to the job

I graduated from Bristol University in 1994 with a civil engineering degree and after travelling for six months, I joined DHV, which has since been taken over by the Aspen Group. I did general civil engineering work, starting with the bridges section and then working on highways and infrastructure, for a science park owned by Trinity College, Cambridge. After three years at Aspen, I moved to Whitby Bird & Partners, where I stayed for a year. Although it was a great job, with trendy offices and lots of young people around, I realised that being a civil engineer was not for me. Instead of being excited about the work we were doing, I was counting the minutes till 5.30.

Expectations

I had always been interested in promoting civil engineering and had done press work for the Association of London Graduates & Students at the ICE. So I applied for this post. When I was offered the job, I panicked about going from a solid career like civil engineering into PR, which everyone thinks means having a nice time and drinking champagne.

But I knew it was what I wanted - it didn't matter what people thought.

I also knew that my four years' experience as a civil engineer would help me with the technical side and I liked the performance aspect of PR such as public speaking. Originally, I wanted to be an actress and my parents told me to get a proper career first!

Reality

Coming from a structured career like engineering, I wanted to make sure I was well qualified to do this job. So I am just finishing a diploma with the Institute of Public Relations. On a daily basis, there are lots of routine jobs like scanning the papers and keeping track of the trade press. You also have to react quickly when big stories come in, like the Millennium Bridge swaying. Then, you are reacting to events, but trying to get the best journalistic angle you can.

What I like best is the strategic side of my work, when we plan events from scratch. It involves a lot of brainstorming, and I suppose reminds me of working on projects as an engineer.

Advice

I think everyone should try to find work they really love, and are really committed to, and you can see some civil engineers do have that.

It makes all the difference. If people do want to go into PR, my advice would be that it is not just a free-wheeling, good-time sort of career. You can take a very technical approach. And you can take professional qualifications: I think wanting structure and a career ladder is in a civil engineer's nature. But you do not have to work in PR to promote engineering.

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