We recently interviewed Helen Collie, who having worked for Thornton Tomasetti for almost seven years, has recently been promoted from Associate to Senior Associate across the property loss consulting, forensic and renewal practice groups. Helen is a Chartered structural engineer with more than ten years’ experience in the design and construction industries including forensic and claims investigations and expert advice preparation.

Congratulations on your promotion!
What will you be doing in your new role at Thornton Tomasetti?

I’m a structural engineer and I currently split my time between working on forensic projects – property loss claims, for example damage assessments, and litigation support work primarily for professional negligence claims – and structural design work involving existing buildings. My promotion means I’ll carry on doing this but become more involved in management than before, and I can create proposals for and take on larger projects, managing larger teams.

What made you want to become a Senior Associate?

I’m always looking for the next challenge and to learn; I’m looking forward to being more involved in management and strategy.

What new challenges do you think you will face in your new role?

With each level of responsibility comes a few more things to think about, so I suspect (and hope – it’s good to be busy!) time management will be my biggest challenge.

What’s the most exciting/ satisfying/ rewarding/ interesting thing about your job?

I love problem solving and understanding how things go together (and hence sometimes why they fall apart), and I love meeting and talking to people. My job involves both of these things every single day, which makes it very rewarding. I also get to see construction projects from both the design side and the forensic side, which I think has made me a better engineer and is uniquely interesting.

If you weren’t a Forensic Engineer what do you think you would be?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet, but I fainted at the sight of dog blood when I went on work experience… so I’m not sure I’m cut out for anything else, though I make a mean chocolate brownie and harbour dreams of building a bakery empire.

What do you do to relax away from work (hobbies)?

I walk my dog, a shiba inu called Huey – my husband and I often go away to the west country of England with him in tow.  I bake and cook a fair bit. I can also ski and scuba dive, though it’s been a while since I’ve squeezed in a trip to do either!

Helen’s shiba inu called Huey

What would be your dream project?

I’m lucky enough to have worked on a couple of dream projects – claims relating to iconic and cutting edge structures, for which as a forensic specialist I got to review the design and construction processes and the contract nitty gritty, and help to provide an independent view for our clients. But even the smallest forensic projects can be fascinating and throw up unexpected issues so you never know which projects are going to be the most interesting. A dream design/refurbishment project: I’d love to work on something like the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

Photo credit: Open Air Minack Theatre at Porthcurno West Cornwall Coast via photopin (license)

Tell us something about yourself that people wouldn’t know?

I will happily eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches as a main meal.

Where do you come from and where do you live?

I was born and raised in South West London and still live there, near Wandsworth Common.  I also went to uni in central London, I guess I just can’t get enough of this city.

What’s the best and worst thing about where you live?

My corner of London has lots of green leafy space, which is important for me (and the dog), but I’m also 5 minutes from a tube stop which can take me anywhere within an hour, pretty much… the best thing about London is the range of bars, restaurants, events and things to do: I have a particular soft spot for the fantastic (and free) Natural History Museum. The worst thing is it can seem quite an unfriendly place – and rush hour on the tube is awful.

Photo credit: Waiting at Waterloo 

How many countries have you worked in?

For prolonged periods of time: the UK, the US (I worked in our Chicago office for a year) and New Zealand (I worked in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake). But I’ve also been lucky enough to visit Dubai, Denmark, Romania, Norway, and, less glamorously, the Isle of Man for projects.

What’s your favourite food/drink/film/music?

Food: Lasagne. Drink: I have an unhealthy Diet Coke addiction. Film: that 80s classic, Inner Space (I’m not a movie buff!). Music: my teenage love of Radiohead has never waned.

What’s your favourite building or structure?

I adore the Natural History Museum building in London, though that’s largely for nostalgic reasons. I have a similar attachment to the much maligned BT Tower in London, as it was my homing beacon when I lived nearby.Photo credit: Natural History Museum Photo credit: bt tower in central london

But my favourite structures are the ones that were feats of their time and are simply mind boggling when you see them in person and wonder ‘how did they do that?!’: the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids at Giza, and the Hoover Dam. I’m lucky enough to have seen them all because of my adventuresome parents, and that’s probably what made me end up an engineer.

Photo credit: Colousseum at 7 amPhoto credit: Giza Pyramids (Egypt)Photo credit: Hoover Dam Area