University Life 27.07.21

Maryam: Salford's globally-recognised female engineer

Student in Manchester city centre

Rhys Blanchard

Student Communications Assistant

Earlier this month, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting PhD student Sajedeh (Maryam) Mollasalehi who is taking her career from strength-to-strength while studying at Salford. Not only has Maryam travelled the world, presenting her work at internationally renowned conferences, she’s also made a name for herself as a prominent member of our SEE community. Oh, and did I mention, on the side of all this – she blogs (my new favourite person!)

HI MARYAM, PLEASE COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT SALFORD?

I started studying at Salford back in 2010, doing BEng Civil and Architectural Engineering, and it was fantastic. I had to do a foundation year for this degree, and I remember literally being the only woman in my class, which was unexpected but also very interesting because all of the guys were so supportive of me, without making me feel patronised. In my second and third year I did study with other women, however, with around six or seven of us in the class.

After completing my first degree, I moved from our School of Computing, Science and Engineering to our School of the Built Environment, where I did a master’s in BIM (Building Information Modelling) and Integrated Design. It was such an interesting year, but when it came to the dissertation, I did find it hard. At the same time it was so fulfilling, as during that time, you meet so many fascinating people in the industry who have jobs that I aspire to have. I found researching immensely satisfying, which was a pleasant surprise, and made me think that I could potentially explore a career in academia. I did well in my dissertation and was awarded the Autodesk Prize for the “Best MSc Dissertation” in the School of the Built Environment.

I would like to thank my master’s dissertation supervisor Mr Andrew Fleming, who at the time of the award, encouraged me to do a paper based on my MSc dissertation. He said that he’d guide me, and that I was more than capable of producing some great writing, using my dissertation topic as a foundation. After I had written the paper, I sent it to a prominent conference in my field, with the hope that they would recognise it. They accepted my paper, and offered me a chance to present it at the conference, which was remarkable. It meant that I got to travel all the way to the US with my work. Here I also won an award for my presentation, which has been a real highlight of my career so far.

WHAT ROLES DO YOU HAVE WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY OF SALFORD?

As well as being a PhD student, I get involved with as many things as possible. I work a lot with the University of Salford’s CIB Student Chapter (International Council for Research and Innovation in Buildings and Construction), which I joined around two years ago. I’d already worked with everyone here, so it was really exciting to get an accredited name behind us. I became our group Secretary, and then later our President, a role which I’m still holding now.

As well as this, I’m a student representative for our School, and also for one of our research centres. It puts me in a position where I can help fellow Salford students in hopefully gaining access to equally amazing opportunities such as the ones I’ve experienced. I also work as a Teaching and Research Assistant alongside these roles, so I’m quite busy!

HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES OF WORKING IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY?

It is challenging, because I am a young, female engineer, but it’s never been horrible. Both my mother and father are engineers, it really is in my blood. They’re civil engineers, so when I see my mum, I think “she’s done it, so why can’t I?” There’s been a couple of times where I’ve had some quite patronising comments like “do you know where you’re going?” and even after I’ve politely explained, I’m still followed with a confused stare.

I can truly say however, that I’ve never experienced any kind of bigotry when working in the research side of my profession, in fact my experience at Salford has been just the opposite. I would like to take this opportunity to thank both my supervisors Professor Jason Underwood and Mr Andrew Fleming for their guidance, great support and constant encouragement and motivation throughout my PhD journey so far.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WOMEN WHO ARE LOOKING TO ENTER THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?

Don’t listen to others, just go for it. If you’re passionate about engineering or any aspect of the industry, then you should believe in yourself and go for it, and that’s the same for anyone wanting to go into any industry.

WHAT ARE YOU FOCUSING ON THE MOMENT?

I’m working part-time alongside my studies, so I’m looking to complete my PhD and then launch my career. I want to build up my CV and move into the industry or find a career in academia. In my spare time, when I’m not carrying out research based activities, I spend my spare time blogging, which is something that I love, as well as writing content that is designed to help those studying or in some form of education.

WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE CAREER GOAL?

I can’t say I have a dream job necessarily, as I’m unsure whether I’ll be spending my whole working life in academia, or whether I move into the industry. What I can say for certain is that I want to make a difference. If I achieve something in my career that I’ll be remembered for and that could be of any help to others, I’ll be happy. It doesn’t have to be massive or make me famous but instead something that will be noted in my field.