Atkins: Can a career in STEM have a creative outlook too?
Hearing is one of the five senses. Music is the food of love. Unwanted noise is a blight in all our lives. Nonetheless, acoustics remains a relatively unknown – and misunderstood – specialism within engineering.
Louise Morris, a senior acoustician at Atkins in Epsom, says she came to the fascinating field through a love of music and maths – and by happy circumstance.
“I started a maths degree thinking that I would probably pursue a career in finance, perhaps in the City,” she says. “But at university, I was heavily involved in student radio as head of music and part of this role involved creating playlists, editing interviews with bands, and producing and presenting a weekly radio show. From this I gained an understanding of some of the technology an acoustician uses, and saw that a career in STEM could have a creative aspect too.
“Then, during a summer holiday, I worked in an engineering design team at an energy company and assisted its acoustic team. I really enjoyed my time there, and decided this was the career I wanted to follow instead. The acoustician role best combines my interests in maths, problem-solving and music – to think, I only found out such a profession existed because of that summer job.”
A watch on wellbeing
Noise pollution is known to cause anxiety and stress, and its impact is most keenly felt in major cities. As global populations are increasingly urbanised and the benefits of natural environments are better understood, engineers are faced with the challenge to improve public and private spaces with an eye – and an ear – on our future wellbeing.
“People are becoming more aware of the potential health-related impacts that can be caused or exacerbated by noise,” explains Ms Morris.
I saw that a career in STEM could have a creative aspect too.
“They are demanding that noise emissions are reduced and managed as far as possible. Our clients are keen to ensure their projects meet sustainability objectives, which means that there is a greater need to consider human health and wellbeing in all aspects of design – including acoustics.”
Acoustic considerations can affect all kinds of things during the design process. “We think about the dimensions of rooms, and the materials they are furnished with – such as carpets and suspended ceilings, selection of loudspeakers or heating and ventilation plant, and types of noise reduction measures that may be employed,” says Ms Morris.
An acoustic engineer’s day job is varied and rarely desk-bound, as it can involve undertaking noise or vibration surveys anywhere within the UK: calculating noise levels from different kinds of sources, and collaborating with architects or environmental specialists.
“One week I could be manually calculating noise levels inside a submersible pumping station, and the next I could be undertaking a noise survey for a new school building or constructing a noise model of an oil rig, road scheme or music festival,” says Ms Morris.
Sound of success: Louise Morris, senior acoustician at Atkins, found a career that combines her love of music and maths Credit: Getty
In 2016, Atkins advertised an opportunity to lead an environment team working on roads and drainage systems in the Middle East, a role involving liaising with local stakeholders and coordinating the environmental workload between the local project team and UK-based environmental engineers.
“I volunteered and was very quickly seconded to the Middle East for a month,” says Ms Morris. “I had two more secondments, which enabled me to gain more project-leadership skills in a high-pressure environment, and learn more about the Middle East and other technical disciplines, such as air quality, geology and hydrology.
We think about the dimensions of rooms, the materials they are furnished with, and types of noise-reduction measures that may be employedLouise Morris, senior acoustician, Atkins
“At one point during one of the secondments, I had to debate acoustics with a senior governmental official during a critical project meeting. I was nervous beforehand – but I hear he has asked after me at other meetings, so it must have gone better than I thought.”
Ms Morris finished up as acoustics lead on the project.
“I would like to continue having an international career in the Middle East and beyond,” she says. “These projects tend to have ambitious aims and interesting technical complexities, which provides more opportunities for problem-solving and encountering new ways of working – which is ideal for me.
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