Staff Spotlight: Claire Priestley

Posted on November 16, 2016
Archive : November 2016
Category : Staff Spotlight

What is your role within Geotechnics?

I’m a senior engineering geologist at the Yorkshire office.

And what responsibilities do you have in your job?

I do the majority of the reporting for our office. I also help with our graduate engineers’ development, training them up to do the reporting as well as their fieldwork.

We’ve introduced a QA system, which allows the grads to understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what’s expected of them to produce a report. It also means that I can give them stuff to check and they can also peer review because they have a standard form to work from.

I’m also there to help out if they’ve got any queries about techniques they’re doing out on site, or anything that they’re not sure about – I spent a decade as a site engineer so I’ve seen most things! 

"Total geek, but there's nothing more exciting than when you're logging core and you break open a little bit and you find a fossil in the middle. Where else do you get to find fossils - and be paid for the privilege?!"

What do you most enjoy about working for Geotechnics?

I like the friendly atmosphere. I like the fact that John, the director, can come to our office and I can have banter with him. He knows who I am by name. If I’ve got a problem, I know that I can walk into his office and discuss that problem with him without worrying about it.

It’s the same with Len, the chairman, as well. I’ve only met Len maybe two or three times but he knows me by name. For me, that’s a big thing. If you’re working for some big companies you’re just a staff number, and no one really knows you apart from the people close around you. But one of the main reasons why I like Geotechnics is that I can just phone anybody up in the company and they will help me.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the industry?

Last year I did a series of talks in schools to help them with their career development days. The pupils would ask questions like “Why would I get into this industry?” and I always used to say that no day is the same. You could find yourself out on site in the far north of Scotland, or you could find yourself in the office writing a report.

We’ve all done jobs where you’re sitting on a production line and it’s day-in-day-out monotony. And this industry just isn’t that. You get to meet so many different people, and some of the things you find when you’re drilling are fascinating. Total geek, but there’s nothing more exciting than when you’re logging core and you break open a little bit and you find a fossil in the middle. Where else do you get to find fossils - and be paid for the privilege?!

I’ve taken samples home to my nephew. He’s got samples of rock core with fossilised plants in, and he thinks it’s brilliant as well. You get to be a geek and you get to enjoy it!

Do you think that more could be done in terms of STEM and outreach to schools?

Yes, definitely. I mean, I’ve done a presentation that’s taken about an hour to do. What’s an hour of your time to educate younger people and give them a bit more knowledge? The advice I was given before I went to uni was to pick a course that might interest you. If you get kids excited about geology a bit earlier they might think “Well, actually that sounds interesting…”

How do you feel about being a woman in our industry?

When I first got into the industry, there were two of us that started on the same day and another the following week. There were already women present in the company that I started with, so there was certainly a visual female presence there – it wasn’t that I was the only woman walking into an office full of men.

I suppose when you’re out on site it is a little different, but I tend to find the drillers are fine. Some of them are very gentlemanly and will say, “Don’t you lift that up, I’m going to carry that”. You just think, “Well, you know, I’m not too fragile!” I can lift things, so I pitch in and give a hand. I remember one time an excavator driver had arrived in his JCB and he said “Where’s your trial pitting crew?” And I said “You’re looking at her!” He just said “Oh right, OK!” and we just got on with it!

I think at one point we had more female engineers than male engineers in the Yorkshire office, so I don’t believe there’s a barrier at any point. In the industry there are a lot of women at varying levels of their career: principals, engineers, managers, graduates, technicians… I think it would be an eye opener for people to realise quite how many women there are already in the industry.

So what do you like to do outside work?

I quite like to read – I’m just absolutely fascinated by World War Two. But not the war itself, the Home Front: the general day-to-day of how you actually lived your life. I’m also fascinated with Bletchley Park and the code-breakers as well.

I’ve done quite a bit of home improvement. I bought my first house four years ago and totally gutted it down to the shell and then re-built it up and decorated it. I’m due to move into a new house with my wife Evie quite soon, there’s a bit of work to do but it’s not so much of a project this time…

How is life after the wedding?

It’s good. I’m not accepting people who say that life doesn’t really change after you’ve been married, because it totally does. It’s brilliant!

What is your favourite place you have ever travelled and why?

Probably back in 2005, I was a soccer coach in America for four months. I was based in New Jersey, but I was just a short train ride out of the centre of New York. So when I had free time I’d go there, and I would just walk around the city and explore every time I went. It was just an amazing place.

You do a lot of charity work outside Geotechnics too. What led you to that?

I’ve always been into walking from a young age. A few years ago, the British Heart Foundation was doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk, and I thought I’d like to challenge myself and raise some money for charity. The challenge is to do it all within 12 hours, and it’s about 24-25 miles in total.  

I’ve done the Yorkshire Three Peaks four times now. The next time I did it, I raised money for the Alzheimer’s Society. That one had more importance to me because my grandma died from Alzheimer’s and my nanna had dementia. I always remembered my grandma taught me and my brother how to make boats out of Opal Fruit wrappers - or Starburst as they are now. So as part of the challenge I bought a packet of Starburst with me. When we got to the top of each peak we would have a Starburst, and I would make a boat from the wrapper. It was almost like a memory walk, so that one was quite important to me.

My most recent walk was for Macmillan, a Trans Pennine marathon walk starting near Glossop and going over to Chapeltown in Sheffield. 26.2 miles – it was very hard. But I’ve survived to tell the tale and I raised over £700!

Claire Priestley is a senior engineer at our Yorkshire office. To find out more about our ground investigation work in the region, please email Adrian Stevens, North East Regional Manager - astevens@geotechnics.co.uk