Lauren Thompson Aurecon Graduate

Lauren Thompson

University of Adelaide
Systems Engineer
Lauren studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) (Chemical and Pharmaceutical) at the University of Adelaide, 2015

Where did you grow up? Talk us through some important stages of your life in regards to education, jobs and experience abroad.

I was born and raised in Adelaide, then lived in Darwin with my parents for four years and finished high school there. I moved back to Adelaide to start my degree and was fortunate enough to experience a semester at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver! I then moved to Melbourne when I secured my first job as a risk engineer in the oil and gas industry and I’m still loving it here.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I had my eye on Aurecon for a while and was eager to find an appropriate role for myself in the company. After working at my first job for nearly two years, I was lucky enough to make some good industry connections and after some discussions, found myself being offered the role of systems engineer in a completely new sector – rail! I love it. I have been at Aurecon for just over one year now and haven’t looked back.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

Yes. I didn’t know what systems engineering was until I was offered my current role, to be honest. When I started my degree, I wanted to work in large-scale pharmaceutical manufacturing. By the time I had finished my degree, I had grown to love process engineering and was keen to try a design role. Through my experience as a risk engineer, I gained skills that translated well to systems engineering, such as risk analysis, systems thinking and facilitation skills. You never know where your career will take you!

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

My interview process was very casual. My (now) boss told me a lot about the proposed role and the industry, and I was given the opportunity to explain why I wanted the role and to ask many questions. I recall being asked whether I was sure that I wanted to leave the chemical engineering sector and move into rail – and I’m so glad that I said yes! 

What does your employer do?

Aurecon is an engineering and infrastructure advisory company. We bring our clients’ ideas to life through our technical expertise in advisory, design and delivery. We’re designing a better future in the infrastructure; built environment; energy, resources and manufacturing; and government spaces with projects that make an impact. 

What are your areas of responsibility?

I work on major rail projects around Australia and beyond. I like to call what I do ‘technical project management’: ultimately making sure that the components of a design work together at project completion! This involves ensuring that the client needs are understood, that interfaces and hazards are managed and that the design meets standards and requirements. It’s a great multidisciplinary role that involves technical skills, but also strong coordination and management skills.

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

The latest project I worked on was Inland Rail; a once-in-a-generation project connecting regional Australia to domestic and international markets. It completes the ‘spine’ of the national freight network between Melbourne and Brisbane. It is a great team to work with and an exciting, monumental project which will significantly impact Australia’s future and freight network.

A typical work day for me would include designing projects, writing project reports or managing data using various digital tools. This is complemented by meetings with clients and collaborating with project design teams through using our in-house ‘design-to-innovate’ tools. In a nutshell, the tools use design thinking principles and diverse thinking to enable us to develop unconventional solutions for our clients.

As I work on many projects at once, I am often juggling tasks and new pieces of work. This keeps me very engaged and is something I love about my role. During my week, I also make sure to schedule in time to get involved in some mentoring, office initiatives and training to keep things new and grow my networks.

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here? 

There are many career path options within Aurecon and you aren’t limited to just a technical role, even if you start in one! As part of Aurecon’s graduate programme, there is no rigid schedule. You have the flexibility to pursue your passions and design and fast track your career. If you want to head in a particular direction, there are always options available to you. It can be anything from a technical specialist to an operations leader, client manager and/or a service line leader.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes, they could. There was a steep learning curve for me when I entered the rail sector, but as systems engineering is a multidisciplinary field, it can be learned and applied by someone from any scientific background. An engineering background is useful for problem solving and providing technical input, as well as to understand the terminology used by designers.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now? 

I can’t see myself working anywhere else. I would be working for Aurecon – possibly in the Energy & Resources team, or in the Advisory team. 

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most? 

I like the variety of projects that I get to work on – it is exciting to contribute to something that is positively contributing to society. I really enjoy how dynamic and fast paced my job is. I also like interacting with diverse people every day and being pushed out of my comfort zone regularly. 

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?

Aurecon has a great global support network of emerging professionals called Limelight. [This initiative] really helps to develop my personal and professional skills while giving me the opportunity to meet other emerging professionals and senior leaders. We also have a great culture of diversity and inclusion where everyone is encouraged to bring their authentic self to work. These things coupled with excellent policies such as flexible working allows everyone to feel supported by Aurecon.

As my career progresses, I am entrusted with higher levels of responsibility; and I am really enjoying the challenges and new skills that I am gaining from these experiences. This can sometimes be stressful, but I wouldn’t ask for it to be any other way. There are definitely no limitations to where you can take your career at Aurecon.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Join a volunteering committee. This will provide you with great opportunities and networks to learn about your industry, or could help you land a job and give you great experience to speak of in your interviews.
  • At work, make time to get involved in work outside of your project work. Get to know others in your company, join a committee or do some volunteering. These will allow you to make networks and grow skills outside of your role skill set. This may benefit your role or may create an opportunity in the future.
  • Get some professional engineering experience while at university. Uni is great for technical knowledge but experiencing an operations or consulting company will help you to understand the application of this theory significantly.