A day in the life with: Michelle Doolan –Senior Track and Civil Engineer with AECOM

1. Who are you and what is your role, and what is the project you are currently working on?

 Michelle Doolan – Senior Track and Civil Engineer – AECOM.  I am currently working for AECOM as the Track Design Lead for a major rail project bid in Melbourne. More recently I was the package lead for the Caulfield Junction Stage 1 Rationalisation Project and Western Portal Alignment and Formation works (as part of the broader Metro Tunnel Project). Around this period, I also worked across Rail Systems for Construction Phase Services to see our design works through to completion

  1. Could you tell us a bit about your career journey, how did you get into transport?

 At Monash University, I was part of a Leadership program, through which companies provided the opportunity to apply for specific scholarships. I applied for one with the global design consultancy Aurecon and was fortunately successful – it included mentorship with the then CEO, financial assistance and vacation work. I did a brief vacation work stint in Botswana on a Water Project in Kasane-Kazungula (I was overseas for University in the capital Gaberone at the time) and the rest of my vacation work in Melbourne – rotating around the Transport Group. I enjoyed all things Civil and Transport, which worked out well as in the Engineering sector was in a major slump by the time I graduated, but Transport was slowly warming up. I was 1 of 2 grads hired in our group (a very different environment then!) but since then the industry has seen exponential growth and it has been a busy career to date. I have worked on Level Crossings (Furlong, Main, Heatherdale and Blackburn & Caulfield to Dandenong), The Metro Tunnel Project (TA side, client side and delivery side), West Gate Tunnel Project and various other smaller rail projects including line upgrades and renewals.

  1. What does a typical day as a Senior Rail Engineer look like for you?

I’ve spent the vast majority of my career working on the Detailed Design/ Delivery stage of projects, for which every day can present a unique challenge. A Track & Civil engineer in consulting will work across Permanent Way (Alignment/ Geometric Design), Formation (Civil Earthworks) and/or CSR (Rail Utilities). This will include 3D modelling, design documentation, design interfacing and coordination, stakeholder engagement and obtaining design approvals.

I particularly enjoy being ‘on-the-tools’ (in design software such as OpenRail) to solve niche challenges across complex Brownfield sites; where finding the right solution and delivering the best outcome is critical. I’ve particularly enjoyed working together with our Digital Engineering team to change the way we design and deliver in a forever evolving, technologically driven world.

  1. In 2050, what do you think Australian transportation will look like?

 In 2050, I’d like to see integrated mass Transportation as the backbone to our cities, Infrastructure and Urban Planning. This would include High Speed Rail connecting smaller satellite cities (i.e. Ballarat, Geelong, Newcastle) to major cities like Melbourne and Sydney, enabling sustainable, liveable population growth around the country and a reduction in urban sprawl.

This would critically include a well-integrated multi-modal transport system that provides end-to-end commuting from well-planned population centres around the country to daily activities such as work, school, healthcare and leisure. Whether it’s driverless minibuses from home to the station or dedicated cycling networks for the ‘last-leg’ of the journey.

In addition, with the advancements we’ve made across major projects to date, I would envision that our transport infrastructure is not only run using greener fuel sources (i.e. sustainable electric or hydrogen) but that there is significantly less embodied carbon in our major projects through increased implementation of recycled products and advancements in design and construction technology.

  1. How have you seen young people uniquely contribute to the projects you have worked on?

Young Professionals bring a fresh approach and new ideas to our industry and its biggest challenges. The way we work and deliver projects is continually evolving and it’s the new generations that drive change. I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with graduates on the Rail Infrastructure Alliance who are always willing to explore new and different ways of delivering our work, whilst maintaining the highest quality outputs for our clients. Rather than focusing on the hurdles, they focus on the possibilities, which always a refreshing approach to work with, day in and day out.

  1. Looking back, what advice do you have for graduates or early career professionals getting started in their careers?

1) Always bring the ‘true you’ to work; given that most of us work ~40 hours a week, you might as well have fun whilst you’re at it!

2) Always bring your ideas, questions or concerns to the table – we want to hear them! If you don’t feel comfortable in a group setting, find a colleague you find approachable to talk to as a sounding board.

3) Get involved in industry events, initiatives, activities and committees. Meeting people from outside your ‘silo’ is a great way to make meaningful connections that will last well into your career – you just might not realise it yet.

4) Pay Attention to the Opportunities and think them through: having seen the industry go from bust to boom fairly rapidly over the last few years, it has been interesting to watch the movement of professionals. Some have made fantastic career move, others – potentially less so. It’s a crazy market at present, so if you’re considering a move think; 1) Will this take me where I want to go in my career? 2) Does the company (and team) have a culture I would like to work with? 3) Do they work on the projects that will accelerate my development and 4) Will it suit the Work-Life I want to achieve?

  1. Finally, what do you do outside of work to relax and have fun?

As many of my industry colleagues already know, I’m an avid Scuba Diver Instructor and Cave Diver, with a particular passion for all things exploration. My husband and I have an ongoing research and exploration project in an unchartered cave in Vanuatu, which we are desperate to get back to (over 2 years – thanks COVID!)

Otherwise, I just love travelling in general and frequently purchase additional leave to enable this. My last trip was to North Sudan, Egypt and Socotra Island (Yemen), ending in January 2020 and I am pretty keen to tee-up a trip back to Central/ Southern America once flights are feasible again. The travel nostalgia is certainly alive and kicking….

When I can’t do the above, I find R&R through fur baby cuddles (our Dobermann – Takiri), Melbourne’s hipster food & wine scene and long runs or cycles around Victoria’s parklands, high-country and beaches.