Katharine Martin combined work with study at Imperial and is now a contracts manager at MJM Marine Ltd, with years of engineering experience in the shipping industry behind her.
Can you tell me about your studies at Imperial?
My employer Lloyds Register Shipping in Croydon sponsored me to study part time over two years. I worked three days a week as a trainee engineer surveyor and studied at Imperial two days a week. I worked full time in the holidays.
At Imperial there was a very interesting mix of lecturers and students from all over the world. The Advanced Mechanical Engineering course offered, as it name suggested, much greater challenges in “proper” mechanical engineering than I had experienced in my first degree (BSc Engineering at Durham University). I enjoyed getting to grips with the detailed theory of internal combustion engines and gear design as well as the practical work into the vibration analysis of crankshafts which informed my dissertation.
What is your fondest memory of Imperial?
I remember very fondly the people I met there; I made many very good friends. Most of the students had a particular drive to doing the course and there was an interesting mix, including refugees from Eastern Europe.
What jobs have you done since graduation?
I returned to Lloyds Register as an engineer surveyor, but soon afterwards left to work for Harland and Wolff shipbuilders in Belfast. As a mechanical engineer I experienced practically every aspect of shipbuilding during the course of my employment there; estimating, design, project management, ship construction management, commissioning and quality control; as well as some ship repair work. Eight years later, after the closure of the shipbuilding business, I left and went to work at MJM Marine Ltd in County Down where I still work as a contracts manager. MJM is a joinery manufacturing and installation firm, specialising in the refurbishment of accommodation spaces in passenger ships, as well as in the outfitting of new build hotels. Its turnover has increased enormously in the last ten years, when I first joined a typical contract for me might have been to refurbish a café on a local ferry, now every job is a multi-million pound cruise ship revitalization. We work for most of the major cruise lines companies, but obviously their ships do not tend to spend time in Ireland, so the job does entail quite a bit of travel. This creates challenges on the home front because I am married and have been blessed with three children.
How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?
Imperial taught me to cope with a lot of pressure and to work to deadlines. It also opened my eyes to a wider breadth of engineering and certainly to a wider variety of people and circumstances.
What has been your career highlight?
Building two drill ships for Texan oil exploration company Global Marine was a particular highlight, but generally speaking, in contracts management, the successful completion of any project, no matter how small, is a high point.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to continue with MJM and for the company to continue to expand and grow, and to be able to adapt to ever larger projects. However my main aim in life is that my family should be happy and my children should do well.What would be your advice for current students?
I would say work hard and take advantage of all the opportunities that Imperial can offer you. I think my experience of the college was a little bit limited, since I was working at the same time, and so I missed out on having any spare time around Imperial, which I think would have been fun.
What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
Life is full of difficult decisions and you have to be able to negotiate those decisions without too much stress. My view is that if you are to be able to seek and take relevant advice and consider all the facts from an informed position, then, the decision itself becomes easy, really it makes itself. I find that is how I project manage.
What are you most proud of in your life?
Being a wife and a mother, and to have managed somehow to still have a career.
Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
I like this poem, which allegedly was the mantra of Thomas Andrews, the revered designer of mighty ships at Harland and Wolff in the early 20th Century;
Do what you can, being what you are,
Shine like a glow-worm, if you cannot like a star,
Work like a pulley, if you cannot be a crane,
Be a wheel greaser, if you cannot drive a train.
This appeals to the engineer in me, not only for its mechanical references, but because it emphasizes the human aspect of my work and the fact that lowly jobs are just as important in the successful outcome of a project as the more glamorous roles. It is all about teamwork!