Graduate Electrical Engineer

Cara Berghan describes herself as “malleable”, and has approached Engineering with the aim of pursuing all opportunities presented to her.

Cara Berghan

Key facts

Career: Graduate Electrical Engineer at WSP Opus
Programme: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)
Specialisation: Electrical

I didn't really consider doing Engineering until halfway through my final year at high school, when Dennis Matene and Steve Roberts came into my school to talk to a big group of us about Engineering. It wasn't until that point that I was introduced to Engineering, which is crazy to think about now. But I honestly hadn't considered it, nor knew what Engineering was. When I heard a lot of the things they were speaking about, I was like “wow that's so me, how come I haven't heard about it until this point?”. So from there I kind of became more interested in it, applied for it, and got in.

I had no idea what Electrical Engineering was then either. I kind of went in and thought I'll try it out and see how it goes. I didn't want to make any grand decisions about what I wanted to do until I'd had a taste of each specialisation, which you get with the core papers through your first year. I had a vague idea of what I might do because I had been preparing myself to study medicine the whole way through high school, so I thought maybe Biomedical Engineering is what I would head into.

For my Part IV project, my partner and I created a fingerprint recognition system, much like what you would use to access your iPhone or Android phone, except we built it from scratch with computer code and then developed it to offer security access functions through verification of a user. That project was completely different to anything I'd probably done in my Electrical Engineering degree, in that it was more Computer Systems related, but the great thing about it was that it gave me the kind of the skills you need to see the larger picture. I learnt how to break problems down into smaller functions or smaller problems, and inevitably find simple answers to huge problems.

My usual day-to-day role is as a Graduate Electrical Engineer for WSP Opus, but recently I've been doing Systems Engineering as part of an alliance for the City Rail Link project. At the moment a usual day is built around dealing with design leads to try and understand the aspects of their design and what they will be delivering at each stage of the project. I make sure that the designers are aware of the minimum requirements set by the client, and develop a list of system requirements applicable to their design packages for teams to work towards to aid in their design processes and also provide a record of verification and assurance. So then at the end of it, when we go back to our client, we can show what we've achieved and the actions we took. In my role as a Graduate Electrical Engineer, I was involved with the Whangarei V Category LED retrofit. Essentially that was redesigning Whangarei's whole street lighting network with LEDs, which was a massive body of work and took almost a year.

When I landed this role on the City Rail Link project, I used Systems Week as an example of how I'd been exposed to Systems Engineering. However, one week is such a compressed time period to work on such a large-scale open-ended project, so you don't always face everything that you need to. But at the same time, it's definitely helped with what I'm doing at the moment. You learn to work with large groups of people from different backgrounds, different perspectives, who have different understandings of the brief. It's fun but at the same time very interesting in that you learn a lot from other people as well as the problem itself. Your idea of what you've been sent in there to learn is completely different to what you end up learning.

I’ve also presented at a Tuākana careers evening, and I discovered that talking about my experience of studying Engineering with people who are going through it at the moment was not only beneficial for them, but also for myself. I think it was just a way of saying to students, “this is what I wished I had known when I was in your position”. It was really cool seeing more females in the audience – I would love to see more females in Engineering. In such a rapidly developing world, and particularly being involved on engineering projects that have the power to influence the way we live in the future, it's important that we have a diverse range of voices, because the right people can help you open up and tap into your skillset better.