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The big betty careers Q&A: we meet environmental consultant Maria Marsh

The end of school is nigh, and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve got 100 decisions to make. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college, or uni, or do I want to get stuck straight into work? It’s easy to feel lost when you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get there.

But while you have literally your whole life to make up your mind, a little bit of good advice can go a long way. So with that in mind, in a series of interviews, we’re speaking to women who’ve ‘made it’, and asking their advice on how to follow in their footsteps.

This month, we meet Maria Marsh, an environmental consultant at a global engineering firm. It might seem a bit of a vague title, but that’s because it can involve such a huge variety of things: if you’re outdoorsy, adventurous, or simply interested in the whys and wherefores of the world around you – whether it’s people, cityscapes or mountains – an environmentally-focused job could be for you.

Maria gives us the lowdown…

Describe your typical day

This is a difficult one to answer because it can vary so much! Largely it involves project managing our internal environmental teams (the departments that look after things like acoustics, air quality etc), making sure that they get their surveys, data and reports to us so that we can review them and pull them all together before they get submitted as part of the planning process [for buildings and other engineering projects]. It can often also include writing environmental statements and preparing maps. Here and there we have meetings to talk about projects that we’re working on, which can involve architects, planning consultants and the financial teams, so I get to meet all sorts of different people. We also have to keep track of the money side of things, so making sure everyone is keeping within their budgets can be a big part of the role.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

I really enjoy getting to see the proposals for all sorts of different projects: from residential, commercial, infrastructure and so on, before they are even known to the public. Some of them can be quite large projects, so they’re pretty cool!

Are there any bad parts?

Honestly, not really. Being such a varied role means I very rarely spend enough time on something at once to dislike it. However, I suppose I don’t like having to tell people their deadline is much sooner than they thought…

The big question: uni or no uni?

To do the job I have now, you do need a degree so it was definitely worth going. I studied for an integrated masters in environmental science at the University of Southampton. This was a great path for me because I wasn’t ready to specialise in anything and the course was really broad: we did modules in geographic information systems (lots of mapping on computers), environmental impact assessment, which is what I do now, plus ecology, some geology, fieldwork modules, an oceanography module… the list goes on. The variety set me up really well for the role I do now, because I have a little bit of knowledge about a variety of things.Additionally, I did work experience every summer for a few weeks while at uni with the company that I now work for and I tried to get some time in a few of the teams. This proved to be really valuable, as I got my graduate job with the company – I had experience and they already knew I could do the work!

And what about A levels?

I studied biology, geography, Spanish and critical thinking at A level, because I was required to do two science subjects for the environmental science degree that I wanted to do (though it can differ depending on the university you want to go to).
It’s best to keep your options open at A level stage – of course do the required subjects, but also do something that you just enjoy, like I did with Spanish. That way if you decide you don’t want to do that degree subject after all then you’ve got a few more options!

If you were to give one piece of advice to your 14-year-old self, what would it be?

I would tell myself not to worry so much about getting a job and try to just enjoy the opportunity to study at university, and make the most of the holidays to get the experience you need for the working world. I would recommend getting as much work experience as you can, because it is completely invaluable. Whether it is in a specific field or in a range of things, it is never a waste of time; work experience adds something extra to your education and employers will always like it. Keep an open mind and be flexible!


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