The Secret Of My Success - Mike Vaughan
Time Out talks to Atkins' principal engineer responsible for London 2012's flood risk management
After graduating from the University of Exeter with a degree in civil engineering, Michael Vaughan worked his way up to become one of the principle engineers at Atkins. Today, together with his team, he is working towards the success of London 2012 as both project manager and technical lead for flood risk management and assessment projects.
Did you choose your career or did it choose you?
I chose my career although you could say it chose me, by way of its characteristics. I studied maths and sciences and wanted to use those in my work; accounting sounded OK but engineering would provide unique problems where I could apply my sciences. Having graduated at the end of the last recession, I was lucky to get a position with Atkins, and I am now a principal engineer.
What aspect of it gets you up in the morning?
I specialise in river hydraulics and flood risk and really enjoy getting up and heading to the office knowing that there is a problem and analysis I can get stuck into, and solve. Finding out how natural river and drainage systems work is exciting and no two rivers are the same. It is very rewarding when we can prove our ideas and analyses through events on the ground.
How much of the child you were is in the adult you have become?
As a child I used to block the road gullies along a country lane near my home. This would flood to about half a metre regularly and as school children we would cycle through the flood every day. This reprobate activity gave me the love of rivers and streams and probably took me to where I am today. Now I solve these flooding problems for the communities – and I still look for blocked drains! So – the answer is, “quite a lot”!
How much inspiration, how much perspiration?
It’s definitely about inspiration; and brilliance. Perspiration comes when presenting to a large group of clients or at conferences and occasionally when up against a tight deadline. There are products on the market for perspiration!
What tip would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
As a civil engineer you should gain a good range of experience before you focus on one area of work as I now have in river and coastal flooding. It would be good to find an opportunity with a large contractor or consultant, like Atkins, who could offer you those choices. There is a lot of debate on whether engineers should be specialists or generalists, my tip would be to start broad and then specialise if you so desire.
What is the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?
I moved from Bristol to London to work with Atkins on London 2012. The team was drawn from many different areas in order to get the best possible mix. There is a change in the pace of life and adjusting to new people, organisations, and locations was a challenge. I think a huge obstacle for me was finding my way home past Watford when the Tube was suspended; it was the first time I have ever felt lost. On other projects I have found clients' and stakeholders' preconceived ideas to be challenging hurdles.
Who’s been your greatest influence?
I have taken influence from many different people so it is hard to think of any specific role models. There have been mentors and supervisors at work who have been influential in the way I think. My parents obviously influenced my earlier years. A girlfriend at school changed my outlook as a teenager, and then 20 years later we got married – she must rate highly here too!
If you had to choose a place in London that summed you up, what would it be and why?
I commute daily through Euston railway station, as Atkins’ London office is near here, and I feel a connection with that place. It’s always busy and overcapacity, yet under-rated alongside St Pancreas just down the road!
What’s the best place to eat/drink near the Olympic site?
There is a fabulous café at the main gate near to south plaza – 'Meet and Eat' on Marshgate Lane. Good sandwiches and hot breakfasts – well recommended. The samosas in Stratford station are good too.