Track engineer Tara Scott’s had a busy year since appearing in our film for International Women in Engineering Day last year. We catch up with her to talk travel, working in Canada and getting over ‘imposter syndrome’.

What's your job?

Principal engineer. I was also interim professional head of tack this year.

How long have you been at Network Rail? What was your first job here?

Mmm, 15 years now, wow! My first job was a senior technical officer within the track maintenance team.

What do you wish you had known about careers at school?

The railway! And all of the different opportunities there are to join the railway. You don’t have to want to be an engineer to join the industry, there are so many different roles that you have the ability to follow your passion!

This year's theme for International Women in Engineering Day is ‘shape the world'. How does working in engineering help you do that?

Every day in engineering, you have the opportunity to shape the world in some way! Being it creating a new piece of equipment that reduces the risk to the travelling public to challenging our material choices to make them more sustainable, which has an impact on our environment.

Tara representing our railway in Toronto

“Every day in engineering, you have the opportunity to shape the world in some way!”

How would you tell a young person they can shape the world by doing what they love?

The answer is in the word love – if they love doing something, they have the emotion connection to what they are doing. Love gives you the strength to carry on when it gets hard and tough but the reward when you get it done is so much more. Love drives passion, enthusiasm and dedication, all things that are needed to shape the world we live in today.

Tara spent four months last year working for Network Rail Consulting in Toronto, Canada

You appeared in Network Rail's film for International Women in Engineering Day in June last year. What have you been up to in the year since? 

Wow! I have been on quite a journey since last June. In late August I agree to join Network Rail Consulting (NRC) on a short secondment to assist with a contract that they had just won with Toronto Transit Commission. The contract was to assist the commission with a deep dive into their track maintenance practises and give some recommendations to increase their asset reliability.

I returned from Toronto in time for Christmas with my family. I was just getting back into my role as a principal engineer and picking up my work streams when I was asked if I would like to step into the professional head of track role to cover my line manager's secondment.

Then, covid-19 shook the world, a testing time for all in the industry and of course the country. Being in the role during this time has been incredibly testing and having to adapt to a new role and a new work life has been a challenge but like in so many situations before, the railway family stick together and support each other through!

“It's okay to ask for help and support.”

What's been your biggest challenge in the past year?

The biggest challenge putting aside covid-19 was getting over the imposter syndrome of sitting in the professional head of track chair. I have looked up to the engineers that have sat in the role before me and I constantly challenged my thoughts of why should I be here? I am not like those before, etc.

I have some great colleagues who reminded me of my strengths and that it was okay to have these feelings. But it only changed when I took a deep breath and made a commitment to myself that I would not try and be like those before me, but I would be me, I would put my stamp on the role and keep true to my thoughts and beliefs.

There are still challenging moments when you sit in the virtual meeting room and everyone is ‘looking’ at you to make the final decision, but I have learnt that it's okay to ask for help and support.

“Working with NRC gives you an opportunity to … help railways in different parts of the world.”

What's been your high point?

High point would have to be the work out in Toronto and winning the next contract for Network Rail Consulting with TTC. This contract was for a four-year period to have an engineer and section manager embedded into the organisation.

What's Network Rail Consulting and what's it like working on that?

NRC is an exciting part of the wider Network Rail family! Working with NRC gives you an opportunity to take all our learning, best practices and standards and help railways in different parts of the world.

It gives you the opportunity to travel?

It does indeed! Currently NRC have offices in North America, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia.

I had an opportunity to go out to Toronto and spend four months being embedded within the engineering department of the subway division of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). TTC control the transport systems within the city of Toronto, so the buses, trams and subway.

It was an amazing opportunity to spend four months sharing all of the good practise we have within Network Rail and learning about the challenges the TTC team faced in maintaining a vital subway system in the heart of a big city. I was joined on the contract by a section manager who originally worked [at Network Rail in Britain] but now is with NRC in Boston.

We learnt that every track team face the same challenges no matter where you are in the world – access, resource, competent staff. For me, this opportunity gave me time to reflect on what we have done in Network Rail and how much we have accomplished in the 15 years I have been in the company.

Whilst we are always striving to be safer and more reliable, we don’t always take the time to look back and reflect on how much we have changed. Small things that [we] have done for years and were common practise for us in track were new and exciting for the TTC team.

What was your favourite thing about working abroad?

The ability to see another transit company and how we all share similar challenges. My favourite thing about Toronto – the craft beer! It is a beautiful city with friendly people and I got to tick Niagara Falls off my list!

What are your plans for the next 12 months? Do you know what you'll be working on?

The next 12 months will be focused on supporting the regional engineering teams standing up and the creation of the Technical Authority. My biggest project sits around reviewing our track control framework and understanding the assurance requirements going forward with the newly created Regional Engineers.

Read more:

Just Like Me – Q and A with Tara Scott

International Women in Engineering Day 2019: Just Like Me

Just Like Me: Q and A with Dorota and Emily

Just Like Me: Q and A with pilot Rikke Carmichael

Just Like Me: Q and A with Helen Warnock

Just Like Me: Q and A with Kamini Edgley

International Women’s Day – All Change

Careers at Network Rail

Graduate schemes

Apprenticeships

Summer placements

Year in industry placements

Gender equality

Life at Network Rail

Gender pay gap report