Susan McDonald, engineer at National Grid

'Take your career into your own hands': six top tips from a woman engineer

TARGETjobs caught up with Susan McDonald, an engineer with National Grid, to find out how women engineers can get their careers off to a flying start.
Being passionate about your work carries you through the biggest challenges.

Whatever stage you’re at in your graduate job hunt, it’s never to early to start thinking about the approach you’ll need to take if you want to succeed in your career. Susan tells us her six top tips, from getting work experience to making the most of your first job after graduation.

1. Be experienced

When you’re looking for work experience, if you don’t see the opportunities you want advertised, phone up companies and be proactive. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t sit and wait for people to approach you. If you can’t get formal work experience, work for a charity or a business or offer to job shadow. You hold your destiny in your own hands.

2. Be self-driven

Take your career into your own hands and seize opportunities when they occur. Challenge yourself to get involved with activities outside work.

3. Be broad

Don’t specialise too early. Develop a basic understanding of the way the business works first, so you can see your industry in context.

4. Be true to yourself

Be genuine and form genuine and authentic relationships. Working on complex projects is easier when you’re working with a really good team.

5. Be passionate

Be passionate about your work. This carries you through the biggest challenges.

6. Be good at what you do

Above all, focus on doing a good job and doing the right thing.

From student to success as an engineer with National Grid

Susan put her approach into practice while still an undergraduate at the University of Strathclyde, studying for an MEng in electrical and mechanical engineering. She was awarded a Power Academy Scholarship from the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) and this enabled her to gain industrial experience with National Grid before completing her degree in 2010 and joining the National Grid graduate development programme.

Susan's first months on the job

During her first 18 months at National Grid she gained a broad understanding, of the business. She undertook placement in system design, public affairs and investor relations and in addition to her day job she became chair of National Grid’s Newnet Employee Resource Group. In this role she helped all new staff to settle into their jobs, which helped her get to grips with the wider work of the organisation.

After 18 months, Susan was given responsibility for managing 12 offshore wind projects. It was crucial to get the design right both for customers and the local community, and to balance the technical and environmental factors. It’s important for Susan that she works for a company that has a positive impact on people’s lives, and projects such as this enable her to do exactly what she wants to do – making a positive impact.

Inspiring a new generation of engineers

Susan is passionate about the importance of sharing experiences and she does this by going into schools, promoting engineering and the values of National Grid. She herself was inspired to become an engineer by taking part in engineering challenges at school, and wants to inspire a new generation by stressing the positive impact you can make in engineering. She has also led National Grid’s Women in National Grid Employee Resource Group to support the development of women in the organisation and wants to break down perceptions of jobs being ‘male’ and ‘female’.

She is now National Grid’s strategic wider works submissions manager, responsible for developing and leading on the submission to secure investment for a transmission circuit for the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in the south west of England. This represents one of the largest capital projects for the company over the next eight years. Susan says, ‘The great thing about being a young engineer is being at the heart of the energy system, learning what happens on the supply side and what’s right for the consumer.’