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Life as a Graduate Engineer: What’s involved and what you need to know

My name is Lucy Adams, and I’m a Graduate Engineer after recently graduating from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering. I was approached by our marketing team to see if I was interested in writing a blog about the transition of life from studying Engineering, to becoming an Engineer working on real-life client projects. I jumped at the chance as I wish I had been able to read something similar when I started at university, and then again here at Kaizon Engineering. So, pull up a seat, grab a coffee and enjoy my story about what it’s really like being a Grad Engineer, my biggest learnings, my biggest surprise, and some advice I would give others transitioning from a student to a graduate.

The gap between what you learn through study, and what you learn in the workforce

There are many differences between studying Engineering and being an actual Engineer. For one, you no longer have to work past the time you leave the office. You can say goodbye to everyone, switch off, and relax. But, if you need to keep working you know that is why you’re being paid, and you are happy to do so. When you do leave for the day you feel a greater sense of accomplishment as the work you’re doing means something and has a real impact on people. You’re no longer working on hypotheticals but real-life projects. You have greater work satisfaction with producing something tangible that you know is useful to someone. I decided to study engineering purely based on what I enjoyed in high school: math, physics, graphics, and digital technology. But, as I went through university and now as a graduate, what I enjoy has changed from those subjects to now problem-solving and creating innovative solutions.

A gap I have noticed between studying and working as a graduate is the use of codes and standards to design solutions. While it was only briefly touched on during university, I now use the New Zealand Building Code and many Australian/New Zealand standards in my everyday work.

My biggest learning since leaving university

What I have learnt since leaving university is that there are many ways you can solve a problem. Some solutions are simpler, more timesaving, more cost-effective, or perform better. It’s about finding out why one solution is a better fit than others and adapting solutions when you need to. Everyone has a different technique for finding a solution and you can learn a lot from watching how others approach a problem. Being part of a small team where everyone has different backgrounds is really useful when we have a unique challenge, as we all have different experiences that allow us to approach a problem holistically and from all angles.

The biggest surprise I’ve had along the journey

The biggest surprise I’ve had throughout this year has been my personal growth. I thought I was a confident person meeting new people, but, being thrust into the world of clients and projects I almost felt I was out of my depth. Through making more phone calls, managing site inspections and being present in more meetings I have found it isn’t actually that scary. Projects are collaborative and people are understanding if (or when) you get things wrong, and generally want to help you where they can.

My advice to others

The biggest piece of advice I would give to a new graduate is to soak in as much information and knowledge as you can. Ask questions. No question is silly enough not to be asked. When you think you understand what is going on, revisit it. There have been many times this year where I have read a report or followed a standard and while at the time I thought I understood what, I only figured out why upon revisiting it. No one is perfect and we all occasionally make errors. The most important thing is learning from those mistakes and understanding why it happened, then taking steps to ensure you improve and don’t repeat those errors.


Being an Engineer is a very rewarding job. You know you are contributing to making buildings better within New Zealand. No two days are the same and with the changing landscape of construction, it’s more interesting than ever being in this industry. If you’re considering a role in the Engineering field then I encourage you to embrace it, enjoy it, learn from peers, and make sure you always strive to make New Zealand a better place to live.

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