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Working lives

Jim Penman of Tensar International is a chartered geologist and area civil engineer for northern England.

Route to the job I obtained a BSc in geology from Oxford Brookes University in 1987 and an MSc in engineering geology from the University of NewcastleUpon-Tyne in 1988. Following a period early in my career when I moved around a lot, I joined Tensar International in 1994. A world leader in soil reinforcement and ground stabilisation solutions, I initially worked in the design office and was involved in various research and development projects. After five years, I was ready for a new challenge and took an 18 month sabbatical at Montana State University in the US, managing a research project looking at geosynthetic products in pavement applications. Since returning in January 2001, I have moved to the commercial side, and am now the company's area civil engineer for the North.

Expectations Too many rainy days on Scottish field trips and a resistance to the traditional tank top and bushy beard killed off any career I may have had in 'pure geology'. Civil engineering looked a better bet, though my initial expectations of fame and fortune had to be revised quickly. In the early days, I focused on developing my technical skills and it was only later that I came to appreciate more fully the personal skills that would ultimately carry me in a different direction.

Reality After six years I had become pretty disillusioned with the ground investigation industry and badly needed a new challenge. Moving to a manufacturer has easily been the most satisfying part of my career to date. We are part of a small specialist sector but have the reputation of being the best within it; something I get a great deal of personal satisfaction and pride from. I still have unfulfilled ambitions - in particular, I would desperately like to work in overseas sales but, at present, I have enough challenges and room for personal development.

Advice It took me a long while to figure out where my interests and skills would be best applied. My advice, particularly to younger engineers is to consider all possible future options no matter how unlikely they seem.

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