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Working lives

Angelin Foster, 31, is a project engineer for British Waterways, southern region, working on the Oxford and Grand Union canals.

Route to job I graduated from City University, London in 1992 with a BEng in civil engineering. I took a thin sandwich degree course and worked in industry for Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering who sponsored me for the last year of my course.

During my year with Balfour Beatty I worked as a site engineer on many new build transportation projects. I have been working for British Waterways (BW) since 1998, after seeing an advertisement for the job in NCE.

Expectations I felt I needed a challenge and to gain more experience in project management. I was looking forward to becoming involved in the decision making process and the challenges of maintaining such an old network. Coming from a general civil engineering background to a specialist client, I saw a good opportunity to widen my experience.

Reality My job involves managing a contract to repair and maintain canal structures such as weirs, culverts, bridges and locks, as well as the channel and its banks. The work is varied and rewarding, and I am involved in the planning, design and supervision of numerous maintenance projects on the canals, reservoirs and feeders.

Juggling many constraints such as improving the function, fitness and safety of a structure while maintaining the heritage value, enhancing the environmental potential and considering our customers, means that designs and construction methods need to be carefully thought out and their impact fully understood. I was surprised at the pace of change in the organisation and the way it promotes innovative use of materials, and methods of construction and procurement.

Advice BW is a specialist organisation, but the variety of work provides engineers with broad and challenging experience, from new developments, to repairs on historic structures or work on reservoirs and earth structures.

The projects are small by industry standards but there is every chance to become involved in all aspects of project management - something you may not be exposed to in larger organisations.

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