On 7 February 2020, the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) exam markers met in London to discuss and trial-mark the January Chartered Membership (CM) examinations. It has been over 15 years since I started being involved in the marking of these CM exams. In recent years, the exam is being sat twice a year, in January and July. In all these years, I have only missed a couple of marking sessions due to other commitments. I am sitting here today asking myself the question, “Why do I do it?”
For me, it boils down to the following four items:
This is my way of giving back to an industry that has served me for decades. To be a mentor, one must have met and overcome some obstacles in one’s career, identifying with the Chinese proverb, “to know the road ahead, ask those on their way back.” I have met a lot of challenges in my career that sharing these will not only benefit up-and-coming engineers but the whole construction industry. After all, other engineers have also provided me with pro bono advice in the development of my career. It is an honour to be in a position where one can give back to the society because mentoring is wisdom in disguise!
Indeed, the primary purpose of my involvement is to help develop chartered structural engineers in our industry. Heavens know how many of these engineers I have helped over my exam-marking career. However, Obama once said something like, “When you serve, you are serving yourself!” Thus, I have conversely learnt a significant amount from this commitment, from the interactions I have had with fellow engineers to the details I read through the scripts. Even the poorest of scripts have some brilliant nuggets sometimes. The innovations and diversity of thought in these scripts are apparent, driven by the wide geographical and multi-cultural spread of the IStructE membership.
As humans, we often arrogantly think that we have reached the pinnacle of our profession. One should never feel like one has arrived! Everyone has a boss anyway, at least in the construction industry. If it is not your line manager, it is your operations director. Even the C-Class (CEO, CFO and COO) must report to the shareholders. The abstract knowledge that one possesses is only the skeleton; it needs geographical and cultural background to place it into context. What use is your concrete design expertise in the middle of Alaska! Be humble because if you have not done it all, you do not know it all. And no one can do it all!
The thing that drives commitment is duty. One must hold oneself responsible for the direction of one’s profession. I, for one, do not like watching from the sidelines. I try to influence, from within, the course of whatever career I am involved with. It is also easier for those who have plenty to give than for those without anything to beg. I therefore try to give before anyone has to ask. The marking of the CM exams has presented the opportunity to do exactly that, more so in the company of fellow engineers. Humans are social creatures by nature and association of like minds is what we seek.
What about you?
Do you have an obligation to reach back to your industry or community? What is it that you do and how to you get involved?