Career Path: Susan Claris, Arup

Susan Claris, 49, is a transport planner and associate director at Arup and is enjoying being part of “a family of 11,000 individuals”.

Why did you decide to go into engineering/infrastructure?

It was not a conscious decision – it evolved from my interest in transport as this both serves and shapes society. I have always had an interest in transport – right from my first job as a petrol pump attendant when I was 15.

What did you study? How did that lead to this career?

My first degree was combined studies in planning and anthropology (a combination that makes perfect sense to me but surprised some of my lecturers) and then a Masters in transport planning. Having worked for the civil service before studying, I was keen to gain private sector experience.

Who was your first employer and why?

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After leaving school I joined the civil service as I did not want to go straight to university. My school’s careers advice at that time was go to university, be a nurse or join the civil service – so I joined the Department for Transport and worked there for six years.

CV highlights since

I have been with Arup since graduating – 21 years – and there have been many personal highlights including undertaking research on urbanisation for Arup’s Drivers of Change work and involvement with the C40 Cities.

Did you have a career plan? How has reality panned out against that plan?

I have never had a career plan – I just like to take advantages of opportunities that come my way (for example working for a year in Arup’s Johannesburg office). And Arup is a good place to realise your passions.

What is special about Arup and why have you stayed/did you move here?

Arup’s ownership structure – the firm is owned in trust on behalf of its staff – gives it an independence of spirit that I love and an atmosphere and environment of co-operation. We are a family of 11,000 individuals.

Describe your job

Being a consultant means that my work varies from project to project, and it has also evolved over time. Some of my key interests now – the link between transport and health and the importance of active travel, particularly walking – were not a part of my work 20 years ago.

What are you working on at the moment?

A variety of transport planning projects for local and central government clients including, for example, shaping the future of transport and travel in Guildford.

Who has had the most influence over your career and why?

I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with many great people at Arup and I hope that they have all helped to influence me and my career.

What about work gets you interested, keeps you interested?

That transport is such a great subject! We are all transport consumers, so everyone has a view. And transport interacts with so many areas of people’s lives and the built environment – the economy, the environment, health and wellbeing etc – it provides a great opportunity for transport to help to shape better communities.

What can employers offer to make you most happy in your career?

I think a place where everyone is respected and people feel free to explore their interests and passions. A good café to meet over a coffee also helps!

What advice would you give your younger self?

To have more self-belief.

What is the one thing you have done that has been fundamental to your career?

Volunteering to be involved in Arup’s Drivers of Change research (which looks at what the world will be like in 2050).

What is the best thing so far in your career?

The variety and the opportunity to evolve my career. I have no idea what I might be doing in the years to come – and I like that!

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