Meet: Maryam Gharebaghi

Job Title: 

Senior Process Engineer

Job Description:

Maryam is a Senior Process Engineer in Ingen’s Production Assurance team. We spoke to her about her job, becoming an engineer, why she wanted to work at Ingen, and her advice to those striving for Chartership.

Maryam, what inspired you to become an engineer?

From a young age I enjoyed being challenged to find solutions to problems. I loved maths and physics subjects at school so I suppose that naturally led to a curiosity for engineering.

To compound that, I was very inspired by my Mum who is an architect; which in Iran is classified as an engineer. Before the revolution it was less common for women to study engineering. Afterward it became easier for women to become engineers and that’s when my Mum studied. So although engineering was becoming more accessible, my Mum and her generation had to work hard to prove to their male counterparts that they were a competent addition to the workforce and had an important role to play in the field. In that sense we owe a lot to her generation for breaking down those barriers. I have a lot of respect for my Mum in that regard, in both her role as an engineer and that of a mother.

Can you describe your journey from leaving school to completing your Master’s Degree?

I initially went to University of Tehran, and completed a Chemical Engineering Degree, with some elements of computers, but I specialised in gas industry. At the time I graduated it was difficult to get any process engineering work in Iran because of the sanctions. So I worked for four years as a Piping Engineer. I found that interesting and challenging but I really wanted to further my education, so I left Iran to do a Mechanical Engineering Master’s degree in Fluid Mechanics. I chose Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus because it was close to Iran and my brother was there, so that made the transition easier. Also, the lectures were all delivered in English which was good for me. My dissertation topic for my Master’s was on heat transfer and novel thermal storage facilities in computer batteries.

Your next move was to the UK. How did that come about?

I applied to do a PhD at Leeds University. I completed a very challenging submission for scholarship consideration. It was open to international non-EU students who met certain criteria, and there was a very high standard of applicants. I was so honoured to receive one of the two available scholarship places for the Dorothy Hodgkin’s postgraduate award in conjunction with The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – which is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences.

That was a huge achievement. How did it feel?

I was so very proud to be selected. In addition to meeting the criteria, I asked to meet them in person, and offered to travel to the UK to show how much it would mean to me to be chosen, which I think helped to demonstrate my enthusiasm and commitment. I was so happy. Dorothy Hodgkin was an amazing women in the profession of engineering, and it was a great honour to receive a scholarship in her name. With that came an obligation to fulfil all the expectations that come with a scholarship, so I worked very hard, and I learned and achieved a lot in those three and a half years.

What did you research?

The industrial sponsor of my PhD project was e.on, the power generation company. The topic concerned coal combustion for carbon capture and storage, and we were investigating the possibilities of cleaner combustion. It was very interesting to work on an important problem and it was exciting to analyse live information and report back on that.

Out with your research project, what else did you learn during your PhD years?

Doing a PhD is a great way to perfect time management skills. It gave me the confidence to know that I can do a big project, on my own, in a certain amount of time, under supervision, and I use that every day in my job at Ingen.

I got the opportunity to present my work at conferences in the UK and further afield in China, the US, and Germany. That was very scary, but it really help me to develop my presentation skills.

I was helping the University lecturers as a Teaching Assistant, and was responsible for tutorial hours, partial lecturing and laboratory sessions which was also great learning for me. I also co-authored five journal papers and so I’m proud to have contributed to the research field and the engineering profession in that way. Importantly, on a personal level, I’m still in contact with my team mates and my supervisor which is great.

So what was your next move once you completed your PhD?

I moved from Leeds to Aberdeen to be with my husband and for the first few months I volunteered in the VSA charity book shop. Even though I was new to the area it was good to be able to support a great charity in the community. It also helped me to improve my English. After a few months I decided to apply for jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Why did you want to work at Ingen?

I wanted to work for Ingen because I had heard about its reputation as a much respected small company who had big clients. So I was interested in that aspect. I also felt that a smaller company would be a better environment for me; that I would be more involved in projects, and have a closer relationship with my line manager.

I remember submitting my CV to Ingen on a cloudy Saturday morning, and I was delighted when I was contacted on Monday morning. At the interview, while they wanted to discuss my CV, my academic achievements and my work experience, I remember that they showed a lot of interest in me personally. I had removed my hobbies from my CV because I was concerned that it wouldn’t look professional. But they wanted to know more about me as a person. I could tell that it was important to them that I would fit into the team and that my professional values and ethics would support the strong reputation that they had. It made me feel that this was a company that I wanted to work for, and a team I wanted to be part of.

As your first engineering role in the UK how did you settle in?

Once I started, I felt very at ease. There were a lot of international people, so I felt like I would easily fit into the family. The first year was a steep learning curve and I was put on the company’s Accredited Training Scheme. I was assigned a mentor, and together we set targets, and analysed gaps in my experience. I had appraisals and training and I began taking on more responsibilities. There was a lot of focus on professional development, and Ingen had strong ties to the Institute of Chemical Engineering (IChemE). All the engineers were either Chartered or working towards Chartership and everyone was continually learning. So I set my sights on becoming Chartered.

And you recently achieved IChemE Chartership?

Yes, I’ve very pleased with that. The process of Chartership took longer for me as my initial degree was from Iran so I had to also produce a technical report. So I used all my Ingen experience plus my experience from my PhD. My C&C report was used by the IChemE on its website as a good example, so that was encouraging.

At the moment everyone striving for Chartership at Ingen has an allocated mentor, so I have volunteered my time to the IChemE to allocate me as a mentor to a person out with Ingen. I offered to help the IChemE to review technical reports and interview people. So I went through training for that, and just last week I took part in my first interview.

Have you got any advice for someone starting out their Chartership process?

The first advice I got from my mentor was to keep track of everything properly including all the aspects of the projects you are working on – and be diligent with that. And I would definitely advise that too. People get very worried about the actual interview but there’s no need to be stressed. You know what you have done, so be confident when you talk about it. You can never be perfect because you are always learning. You just need to be able to assure the Assessors that you are a safe engineer that understands chemical engineering concepts, are knowledge of the required standards, and are committed to ethics.

What’s does your job involve?

I work on upstream oil and gas projects, and bring new projects from the concept development phase into the ideas phase, and then on to the design and execution phases. There are also cases where I have to provide solutions to existing problems on an older asset.

I’m a Senior Process Engineer so it’s my job to lead and review the work that others are doing on a project. I have direct communication with clients, and present progress and planning reports to my line manager. I’m also responsible for the ethics and standard of a project. Once the work’s finished, I make sure that we learn any lessons and receive feedback from the client. Projects can vary in size and can be a one—person job or involve a whole team of people.

On a day-to-day basis I plan the work based on the deadlines and set about doing they relevant calculations, drawings, notes and reports. I also assure that the junior engineers are comfortable with their work that they are learning well.

How would you describe your time at Ingen so far?

Professionally I’ve gained valuable experience in oil, gas and petrochemical industries. I’ve had great exposure to diverse field development projects and have also been based in clients’ offices. I’ve gained significant knowledge of flow assurance analysis of steady state, transient and non-routine operations in oil/gas fields.

I had the opportunity to work on a very interesting and confidential Middle Eastern project where we delivered detailed design for pipelines and flow assurance. We had to work with another company on that, which was quite unusual.

My biggest achievement was developing from an Engineer to a Senior Engineer in just a few years. That was done to hard work and a lot of support from Ingen. Over the last five years I’ve been managing jobs with teams of up to 10 people, from North Sea projects to developments in the Middle East.

From a personal standpoint, I volunteered and was selected to be an Employee Representative for employee issues. It’s flattering that some of my colleges feel that they can come to me with issues. I think that Ingen has a good system in place to listen to and consider their employees’ thoughts and feelings and I’m happy to be part of that process. 

I always like to be a part of the campaigns at work, I’m on the committee for Healthy Working Lives, and the Green Team, and I help with a lot of the charity initiatives, especially related to the causes that I feel strongly about; animal welfare, children, and health. I am part of a team which has taken part in Cancer Research UK’s Walk for Life for the past five years. My black Labrador Cora also takes part in the walk and the team has raised a lot of money over the years.

So working at Ingen is fulfilling on a number of levels. We’re always working towards being more efficient, and as a company we really have the client in mind over just doing the job or making a profit. For me, over the past five years, I’ve enjoyed coming to work every day, even when the work is difficult. I still can’t decide who my favourite manager is, but it has been a joy so far!

What’s next?

I think it’s important to have interests and activities outside of work too so I plan to maintain the things I’m involved in. I am part of an Iranian Girls Reading Club. We meet once a month and read books in both Persian and English. I think it’s a nice way to feel connected to home but also help fellow Iranian’s to make friends here in Aberdeen. I’m part of a running club and I spend a lot of time with my dog Cora. I also recently started yoga which keeps me calm and helps me to think more clearly. I think that it’s beneficial to my communication skills and interaction with other people.

In terms of my career, I have some goals to strengthen my knowledge in certain areas and I would like to move up the ladder in management. I’m also aiming to someday become a Fellow of IChemE and be able to demonstrate the criteria required for that.

I’m also looking forward to helping others on their Chartership journey. Ingen is the only small company in the world with Gold Corporate Partner status from IChemE so I am starting a steering committee in order maintain the high standards we have had recognised at Ingen. I also want to continue my involvement with the Society of Petroleum Engineers and continue to contribute to the chemical engineering profession. I suppose I would also say as a goal that I would like my Mum to always be proud of my achievements since she was my inspiration to become an engineer.

How Maryam thinks her colleagues perceive her:

I think my colleagues would describe me as both serious and fair as well as a good time manager. I also try to be nice to everyone so I hope they would think that!

What Maryam’s colleagues really think of her:

Robbie Leask, Field Development Manager and co-founder of Ingen:

“I’ve been fortunate to know Maryam from her initial interviews with the company.  Her interview was a pleasure; showing herself to be friendly, open, very intelligent, quick on the uptake, knowledgeable about our company and its areas of expertise, and she had a very personable manner when presenting.  

In the time since we first met, Maryam has proven to be true to our initial impressions and hopes, and further has proven to be an exceptional employee.  She has quickly risen to a lead engineer’s role in our flow assurance group, demonstrating excellent technical, planning, interpersonal and presentation skills with a great willingness to contribute to the team.  She is excellent when dealing with clients and has gained their respect and friendship. 

Within the office I’m very aware that Maryam is quietly instrumental in organising charity events and health drives, encouraging the office staff to participate and contribute.  She does this with charm and leads by example.

Maryam once told me that she felt that she had found a home in our company and as a co-founder I found this statement particularly satisfying.  Maryam has helped make our company feel like a home for others.

Ian Bissett, Facilities and Projects Manager and co-founder of Ingen:

“I have been working with Maryam for the last three years both as her line manager and in collaboration on various projects, and I can honestly say that she is a pleasure to work with.  She is hard working, diligent and extremely pragmatic, and she always delivers with a smile – even the difficult projects!  I have seen her successfully lead and manage less experienced engineers, and the feedback is that she is well respected and well-liked by her peers and the people that work for her.”

Matanat Charkazova, Senior Process Engineer:

“I think of Maryam as an extremely competent and professional colleague as well as a very good person. She is always very helpful and often goes out of her way to help colleagues. She makes a great office neighbour and a friend. I often go to her for an advice whether it is work related or something personal. She is just an all-round nice person who is an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Daniel Becerra, Senior Process Engineer:

“Maryam is a very confident, smart and dedicated colleague who always delivers high standard and quality work. I personally respect her a lot as an engineer because she has proven to be sharp and in plenty of work-related situations. She has played diverse roles within the company with a success story in all of them. She is also an excellent team player who contributes in many ways to the wellbeing and career development plan of the team; so I think it’s natural to feel great esteem for her. In general terms, she knows very well how to keep the right balance between professionalism and friendship within the office and that makes her a great asset to the company.”  

Wayne Strachan, General Manager:

I have been closely involved with Maryam’s journey within the Ingen organisation, starting from reading her CV which I received speculatively one weekend in September 2011. I immediately knew from the CV and subsequent interview she possessed many of the characteristics and potential to make a significant contribution to the Ingen business – this has been reinforced to me many times.

Maryam is a great engineer, this is without a doubt, it is clear from her academic record and the feedback from the project managers that she is capable in this area, however I feel that often some people overlook her other qualities and contributions to the business which I feel are even more important.

Maryam is a leader in the business with many in the organisation looking up to her, this is not just about her engineering capability but in the way she acts and leads by example, demonstrating the value of effort and hard work whilst at the same time helping her colleagues selflessly which is a real inspiration to others – this contributes and reinforces the culture of the organisation. In addition Maryam has an entrepreneurial approach to the business where her interpersonal skills give her an ability to build relationships and develop networks that directly benefit the business.

Lastly and not to be underappreciated, Maryam has demonstrated significant innovation in her approach to projects and workflow which has had a positive impact on the business both in revenue and bottom line