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Working lives

Helen Samuels, 30, a senior engineer/project manager with Halcrow, works from the company's Exeter office.

She is also the mother of two young boys.

Route to job I graduated from Plymouth in 1991 with a first in civil engineering and a commercial diver's certificate.

I went on to do an MSc in hydrology at Imperial College, London. I then joined Mouchel working on water treatment, coastal and river engineering projects and then spent a year seconded to Gleeson. My first son, Archie, was born in July 1996.

After this, I was seconded to the Environment Agency (flood defence). I became chartered in 1997, both with the ICE and CIWEM and left when pregnant with my second child, Douglas, in October 1998.

We then moved from Bristol to Plymouth to reduce our childcare costs (£1,200 per month with no tax relief) and to afford a bigger house in a decent school catchment.

My husband, a quantity surveyor for Pioneer, negotiated an arrangement with his employer, whereby he worked two days in Bristol and three days at home, while I looked for a new job.

Using contacts from my time at the EA, I received several job offers and joined Halcrow Exeter in April last year.

Expectations I enjoy work and know that Halcrow is better than most at adapting to the needs of working parents, with flexitime, an understanding of the need for impromptu time off and occasional homeworking. I was offered a part time post at my interview, but chose to work full time, in order to afford top quality childcare and to ensure I am not excluded from working on really interesting projects.

I would like to stay with Halcrow, as I am very happy both the team and the type of work. I am quite ambitious and hope to increase my salary and seniority in time.

I also want a successful marriage and happy, well balanced children.

The reality My husband and I share drop off/pick-up duty, time off for sick children, sleepless nights and housework, although we are considering employing a cleaner.

Good career progression usually means long hours and flexibility to move around and neither really fit in with our lifestyle.

My husband was made redundant when Hanson bought Pioneer - they could no longer support his flexible working arrangements. He now works for Dean & Dyball in Exeter.

At the moment, life is hard work but great. Time will tell as to whether I continue to be so lucky.

Advice Part time working and career breaks are more costly than childcare and are likely to adversely affect your long term career prospects. They may, however, make longer hours, working away and promotion more achievable for your partner.

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