engineering careers  Interview – Mimi-Isabella On Her Advice To Her Young Self
engineering careers  Interview – Mimi-Isabella On Her Advice To Her Young Self

We featured Mimi-Isabella in our Born to Engineer Engineering Myths and Realities video – afterwards we sat down to talk to her in a bit more detail about her journey into Engineering.


Born to Engineer – Let’s jump right back. Tell us what you do and how you got here.

Mimi-Isabella – I am 27 years old and I am a civil engineer. I grew up in South London, in an area called Croydon and I grew up with my mother, father, brother and sister.

At the moment I am an Assistant Materials Engineer working on one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe. I sit within the quality department looking at concrete production and quality.

Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor so I spent all my time watching Holby City. My mum’s a nurse which is obviously very handy. I really enjoyed my studies, I loved the sciences at school and wanted a career to help the world so I knew I wanted a career in STEM.

I completed my A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry Psychology and Religious Studies, I chose these subjects as I wanted a career in medicine.

Born to Engineer – So how did you get from that to Engineering?

Mimi-Isabella – I didn’t achieve the a-level results for a medical career. I went through the clearing process and was desperate to go to university. I studied a science course I had interest zero interest in. After a few months, I knew the course wasn’t for me and started looking at other alternatives, I considered dropping out completely.

Through a chance encounter, I found myself in a lecture that changed my outlook of the university experience. I was invited to a lecture by a friend, without asking what course he studied, I followed him. The course was male-dominated and had only 2 women.

After 15 minutes of conversation with the lecturer and little (I like to take risks) research, I decided to transfer to the University of Portsmouth and study Civil Engineering. I was worried, as I didn’t have the prerequisite A-level subjects to study Civil Engineering but I was very determined to achieve the best results and challenge myself. I appreciate the university’s faith in me.

Born to Engineer – So do you think your experiences here have gone on to influence your day-to-day experience now?

Mimi-Isabella – Yes, when you are told growing up that working is to be all and end all but I think it’s important to have other interests outside of that.

I like travelling, I enjoy playing computer games, I love music and I love films. I think it’s important for people to have a life outside of your work.

What I eventually did, and the advice I would give to my young self, would be to travel the world. I think travelling is important because it opens your eyes to the beauty of diversity and you get to meet so many different people, understand different cultures and speak various languages.

I will always remember one point when I was travelling that changed my outlook on life. I was in Malaysia and I went to see the Petronas Towers. I remember being young and seeing them on TV and saying to myself, “When am I ever going to go to Malaysia, I have no reason to be there” but there I was at 24 standing underneath the Petronas Towers.

I said to myself you can do anything that you put your mind to, and that travelling doesn’t just mean going abroad. The UK might be a small island but there’s still so much here.

We’ve got the lake districts, areas of Scotland. If travelling is about expanding your horizons and meeting new people, then people in London have different experiences than people in Scotland; who have different experiences to the people of Manchester.

It’s really good to learn about each other, to collaborate and to understand each other better.

Working you might spend 40 hours per week at work so I think that on the weekends you shouldn’t be stressed.

I remember during my A-levels and GCSEs always being really really stressed but never really taking the time to actually de-stress.

I still had the same interest back then that I have now so why didn’t I be stressed then? Please please please de-stress. It’s really important to do some research in your area of interest and I know a lot of us don’t usually take time to that research but even doing a little bit goes a long way.

Doing some research you’ll really find some interesting stuff and maybe careers never thought you would even consider?

Looking at my young self I would have allowed myself to dream more. Dreaming is important because you’re able to put yourself in a place that you probably wouldn’t imagine yourself to be in.


Mimi-Isabella at our Born to Engineer roundtable discussion – launching later this year

Mimi-Isabella at our Born to Engineer roundtable discussion – launching later this year

Born to Engineer – Do you think dreaming actually helps widen everyone’s prospects?

Mimi-Isabella – Dreaming is especially important to people who come from unrepresented backgrounds.

You’ll find that a lot of roles you don’t see people who look like you in. It’s those roles so that’s why it’s important to dream growing up.

For me, knowing that I wanted to be a doctor, at the time when I was watching Holby City I didn’t see people who looked like me. I genuinely thought these jobs were for certain people of a certain race and a certain class. I wasn’t able to imagine myself in those type of roles. That should not hold you back at the end of the day. Holby City is just TV. You’ll go to your normal doctor and you’ll see a diverse set of people.

Born to Engineer – Do you think it’s just how these roles are shown in the media that puts people off?

Mimi-Isabella – No. Don’t allow your school, your college, your career advisor to hold you back from your future.

I remember being in sixth form and they said to me that I wasn’t able to get into university to do the course I wanted to do because I wasn’t good enough and that is what I use to motivate me now.

I remember being told that I wouldn’t get into university by a teacher at my school and that really really made me feel sad. I felt like it reinforced all the negative things I thought about myself at the time growing up and in sixth form.

On the outside, I appeared really confident but on the inside um I was batting a lot of internal battles. I remember her looking me dead in the face and saying “I just don’t think you’re going to make it”.

Don’t give up and keep pushing. Use people’s negative comments to motivate yourself all throughout life. Unfortunately, there’ll always be someone or a group of people who will always give you negative feedback.

It’s important to grasp opportunities and always keep your mind constantly open.

Born to Engineer – What are your goals now you are working as an Engineer?

Mimi-Isabella – Within engineering, I really hope to be chartered.

Charted means that you get a massive stamp to say that you know your stuff.

Born to Engineer – How do you take that next step?

Mimi-Isabella – Achieving that goal means gathering all the experiences that I need in my current job. Making notes of them and what am I doing again. Then I have to get these attributes signed off in order to meet chartered status.

Born to Engineer – How do you keep motivated doing that?

Mimi-Isabella – Knowing I have a goal and I am slightly closer to the life I want for myself.

Born to Engineer – If you are not getting the positive reinforcement you need in school what else is there to build up your skills?

Mimi-Isabella – Try not to internalize negative feedback, have a vision, have a goal and just keep going. For me, volunteering became really important.

It allows you to pick up small skills, soft skills that you’ll need for the workplace.

Born to Engineer – Can positives come from negative experiences?

Mimi-Isabella – Yes. After mock exam for biology and I got 13 out of 100.

At the time it was gutted. I scored one of the lowest results in the class but I didn’t let that affect me it. I used it to push myself to do better later.

Even if you fail an exam or you don’t do well in A-level Maths and Physics like myself there are so many ways to get into engineering.

You can do an apprenticeship. You can do a degree apprenticeship. You can go be directly employed via a company.

These are all fantastic routes. There is space for everyone whether you’re Black, White, Asian or from another minority background. As a young black person, I think it’s important that you do take up those spaces because there are more opportunities now and you being in that space is you standing for something and you’re showing yourself that you can do it.


Want to know how to get started in an Engineering career? Deep dive into our Engineering Careers University, Vocational Or Apprenticeship? Guide now.