I have to start by apologising for the silence on this blog during the past couple of months…”dissertation” is all I can say. If you’re wondering about my research topic, this article I wrote recently might give you a clue, although the story unfolding is turning out to be a lot ‘juicier’ than I expected. More on that in a few weeks hopefully (once the dissertation has been completed!).
Last week, I was invited to give a talk at the Arup office in Manchester reflecting on my career to date. I have never been asked to speak on such a personal topic before; it turned out to be a valuable opportunity to reflect and share.
This is a photo of me as a graduate student and research assistant at the University of California, Irvine. It’s been almost ten years since I graduated with a Masters degree in Chemistry from there. Returning to Dubai in January of 2007, I was looking for a job as a lecturer or researcher in the field of environmental science. However, what Dubai was looking for, I soon found out, were people to design, build, manage and market the largest construction boom it had ever seen. I was fortunate to find a niche in that world as an environmental specialist for one of the large developers.
I didn’t necessarily know it at the time, but I could not have asked for a better learning experience or introduction to the construction industry. Having oversight of some of the most exciting and challenging projects in the region, and direct access to many of the top directors and team leaders on both the client and consultancy side, gave me first hand insights into how the industry worked locally.
It was about the same time that Dubai started becoming interested in the ‘green agenda‘. I found the area of sustainability fascinating as it moved away from a mostly reactive and legally-driven world of minimising negative impact towards a more proactive, integrated, and ambitious paradigm of promoting positive change and capitalising on opportunities. I became an accredited green building professional within less than a year of starting my role, and was excited about bringing this new approach to the region.
Moving to Arup in the summer of 2008, I gained instant access to a global network of technically excellent, similarly-minded, passionate individuals who were eager to explore the many sustainability challenges and opportunities, and share their learning with anyone who would listen. It was the environment I needed to continue learning and growing, both personally and professionally. And I am still doing so today. As my experience grew, so did my responsibilities and ambitions, and I was encouraged from an early stage to forge my own path, if that was what I wanted.
Reflecting back, there are some key points which stand out in my mind – words of wisdom or hard-earned experience – which have been central in shaping my career over the past ten years.
I remember when, as a relatively new and junior member of Arup, I was assured by our regional managing director that I could go far in Arup, and that doing so would not require me to do anything I did not feel comfortable with nor to pretend to be someone I was not. That may be obvious to me now, but at the time it was hugely reassuring and motivating. I would encourage you to pass on the same message to your colleagues, and to work to create an environment at your workplace where this is true, if it is not already the case.
I also remember a number of occasions along the way when I was not enjoying my work, for various reasons. My personal rule of thumb is 50% – i.e. if I’m not enjoying at least 50% of the work I do then it’s time to do something about it. And by that I mean seeking advice from mentors and colleagues, exploring new opportunities to learn and develop, and identifying potential new roles and professional challenges for myself. Every time I accepted the fact that I was not satisfied and took on the task of changing that, I was rewarded. I have God to thank for that and then all the wonderful people who have opened, sometimes created, doors for me and encouraged me to keep exploring.
By far, the most satisfying part of the past ten years has been the opportunity to influence mindsets and realities (people and projects) towards my vision of a better world. It is what led me back to Dubai in January 2007, because I felt my best chance of long-term, meaningful influence was at home. It is also why I’m looking forward to returning to Dubai in September 2016.