Georgina Buffham

Georgina Buffham

What is the name of the company you work for and what do they do?

The Canal & River Trust is a charity responsible for over 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, enabling the operation of these inland waterways (primarily canals and reservoirs). The canals are primarily used for leisure nowadays, but have a history in industry as they allowed travel around the country before the railways were built.

What is your role within the company?

The student placement that I undertook was in the engineering team, which identifies defects on the waterway network, determines the risk and designs solutions to remove the defect. Problems can be dealt with through monitoring, ongoing maintenance, small-scale work to mitigate risk or large projects on high-risk assets to remove the problem. I worked primarily on designing engineering solutions for one-off works.

Can you give me an insight into a typical day?

I typically spend a day coming up with designs to give to our in-house construction team. This involves discussing ideas and issues with fellow engineers, heritage and environmental advisors and construction supervisors. Although my job is office-based, an important part of coming up with these designs is arranging site visits to get a better idea of problems that I've been given, and this is usually the first step when designing a solution.

What do you enjoy the most and do you get involved in any interesting projects?

My placement gives me the opportunity to follow a problem through from first noticing a defect, to seeing the completed works that I designed. The fact that all of this can be managed within a year means that I get to work on a variety of projects and I can see the input that I'm making to the company.

I really enjoy going on site visits because you get to see some really amazing things and places and lots of different structures. I've stood at the bottom of a dewatered lock, watched a fish rescue, done camera inspections of culverts and seen lock gates being made. I've also had the chance to go on inspections of the waterways, which is a great way to see the whole network and how defects are picked up, and I get to be on a boat for a few days!

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

I was interested in gaining some practical experience to support the learning I'd done at university. I didn't have much relevant industrial experience before coming to university so this was a good opportunity to see what the industry is like and work in a sector that I was interested in.

What do you think you have got out of this experience so far?

I have gained a practical knowledge of engineering solutions and had experience with structures with heritage and ecological value. I have had the opportunity to work with some incredible engineers and professionals, gained confidence and independence and have been able to take ownership of my own work.

Do you have any tips and advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

Definitely do it! A placement gives you invaluable experience, which makes you a lot more attractive to employers when it comes to applying for graduate roles, and you also get a break from university for a while! Try looking at lesser known companies, because they'll be able to give you a more involved experience, where you are contributing to the company. Make the most of the opportunity while you can, ask if you can shadow different departments and get involved with projects outside of your normal role.