Civil Engineering

Find out what attracts people to our Civil Engineering specialisation and how it's shaping their career opportunities.

Hamish Tocher

After making the move from being an Art Lecturer, Hamish Tocher found Engineering to be a creative practice that includes aspects of history, culture and community.

“I was an artist and I was a lecturer, I worked in that world. I made a judgment that as an artist I wasn't going to go up to the next level; I had reached my highest gear. I looked at where I was and I thought maybe I don't need to do this anymore, and maybe I will go and do something else.

“Engineering and Art are not careers that appear to be aligned from the outside. But the interesting thing is that under the hood, that creative process is familiar. In both, you have this idea or this brief or this set of challenges and restraints that you're trying to work within, and you're trying to come up with a solution that covers a lot of disparate goals.

“I think it's about learning the language that you're trying to speak. For me, one of the things that was really challenging was learning to speak the language of mathematics. It had been a long time since I had done maths at any level. In art practice, when you're making your own work, you need get to a certain level of comfort and familiarity with the techniques and the tools that you're using to get the point where you can improvise. I used to work in the darkroom, for example, and you can kind of get in the darkroom, and you're working with your print, and you realise it's not quite right, and you improvise and you play to get to where you need to be. So in my quite limited experience of Engineering work – limited to last summer – I just started to feel like those things were connected again. I started to feel like I had just enough technical knowledge to think, okay, well, I can't do it this way, maybe I'll try doing it that way instead. I felt like those skills were being activated.

“I think that for people who are in a design or an art career and are thinking about switching to this kind of thing, that the really useful skills they have are in terms of creative thinking, being able to gather ideas from a more diverse range of influences, and then thinking about a solution to a project in a more lateral way. Engineering firms, as far as I can tell, are talking about those skills as part of the package of what they want from a graduate engineer.

“In the final years, or as you start to be able to actually do stuff, you realise that there isn't one right way of doing it, and that your way of conceptualising the whole project is what's useful to engineers. Artists are really good at pulling together a whole project by themselves, at scheduling work, at making sure that they bring in other skills when they need them, at learning how to do stuff fast, at trying new things they haven't done before, and doing a good job. Those are great skills for an engineer as far as I can tell. So, it's not as big of a reach as you think.”

Joel Kavenga

“In high school I enjoyed maths and physics, and I realised engineering would be a good career for implementing those two subjects. I wanted to do civil engineering – specifically structural engineering – and there were really only two universities in New Zealand that did it to Engineers New Zealand accreditation standard. That was important to me.

“One of my projects this year was about the MV Rena and her grounding on Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty. Our challenge was to analyse the economic, cultural, environmental and  social impacts that the collision, spillage of oil and cargo, and resulting wreckage had and will have. The affected parameters included health of marine life, tourism/local business and Māori customs. Analysing these parameters allowed us to understand the problem more and gives us better knowledge to implement a more effective solution for the future.

“The most valuable thing I’m getting out of my studies is a broader knowledge of how the world works; in the first year you get a taste of nine engineering disciplines, so you get an appreciation for how everything works. Another highlight is being independent and learning about things I enjoy, plus meeting a range of people – it’s such a diverse community here.”