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Working lives


Last year, graduate Sarah Wharton, 24, won a £500 runner's up prize for NCE's annual Graduate Awards.

Route to job My first class honours MEng in civil engineering design and management from Cardiff University secured me my first postgraduate job with the rail infrastructure division of consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff. In common I suspect with many new graduates, I was initially given general administrative tasks which I soon found boring and unrewarding.

But then entering and, to my amazement, achieving success, in last year's NCE Graduate Awards helped me get noticed within my company. The managing director, who I had previously seen only in photos, immediately called for me and doubled my £500 prize.

The recognition this triggered within my company encouraged me to request a more challenging role.

Expectations The lobbying worked, and I was asked to join a consultancy team advising Railtrack on track maintenance possibilities following the Hatfield crash. It sounded challenging and an opportunity to get way from the routine of the office. There were several much more senior project managers in the team and I expected a long learning curve into an area totally new to me. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for.

The reality Soon after starting the new role, several of my bosses left and I faced rapid promotion to now being a full project manager for a feature of track maintenance worth potentially about £10M. The learning curve could not have been steeper, and the scope of my work may influence maintenance over the entire UK track network.

The role has proved far more challenging than I even dreamed of and equally far more rewarding. I never imagined I could have this level of responsibility just two years out of university.

Advice So many new graduates seem to start their careers by accepting routine and non challenging roles, that it now appears the norm. But with currently such a shortage of young engineers, graduates these days can afford to say no both to jobs and even employers.

We are hot property now, which is a pleasant change from previous days. So if you find yourself in boring routine work, do something about it.

Entering NCE's Graduate Awards scheme was, for me, a very good move, and I urge anyone eligible this year to have a go. There is nothing to lose, and potentially a lot to gain.

The experience I have gained working with Railtrack has been invaluable and I am already gearing myself up for my next challenge in a few weeks time - a year in Kuwait with Parsons Brinckerhoff 's consultancy team designing a new 6km highway.

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