Meet Hannah Pearce a Land Surveyor working in Canberra. Having graduated from UNSW Sydney only a few years ago, the UNSW Girls in Engineering Club hit her up for a Q&A and asked her why she chose to study surveying, what opportunities it has given her, and why she recommends you give surveying a shot!
Hi! I’m a Registered Land Surveyor who graduated a couple of years ago with a Bachelor of Engineering (Surveying) from UNSW. I live in Canberra, better known for politicians than world-famous surveyors, but I’m working on it.
I went to a fairly small school in Canberra which has a strong focus on arts, music and giving everyone a broad education. As a result, my interests were pretty varied - in Year 11 & 12 I studied Visual Art, Maths, German and English with minors in History and Science.
After finishing school, I took a gap year, saved up some cash working at a supermarket and flew to Germany to work on a farm for a few months and travel around Europe. Then I shifted up to Sydney for a few years to study the best (and only) available surveying degree within a four-hour radius of home.
When I’m not surveying, I like gardening, reading, knitting, cooking, and almost any other old-lady hobby you can think of. But I also like hiking and camping and just generally spending time outdoors.
Surveying is essentially the art (and science) of measuring and mapping the world around us, and presenting that information in a useful way.
My branch of surveying, Land Surveying, deals with property boundaries. We redefine the boundaries and mark them on the ground so people can put a new fence in the right spot or resolve a dispute between neighbours. Sometimes we subdivide a large parcel of land into new blocks to be sold off and built up. Sometimes we mark out the position of a new house on an empty block so that the builders can build it in the right place. Any of these things to do with property boundaries need a Registered Land Surveyor (that’s me!).
Surveying involves a lot of other types of work, too: we can make detailed contour plans of areas so that architects and engineers can design new roads or buildings; we can work on big construction projects like roads, train lines, stadiums, or high-rise buildings as well as small projects like residential houses and extensions. We can work in the inner city, i the suburbs or (my favourite) out in the bush on a big rural property.
If you can think of a project that needs to be built or designed or changed, then there is pretty sure to be a surveyor involved to make sure that it all happens in the right place.
Like most people my age I had never heard of the profession until my maths teacher played us the recruitment videos from A Life Without Limits in Year 10 and tied surveying into our Trigonometry lessons for a term.
During Year 11 and 12 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My mum and my maths teacher respectively thought surveying would be a worthwhile option because it had great job prospects and I was good at maths. I figured it would combine at least two of my many interests: maths and the outdoors; and I knew for sure that I didn’t want a job where I was sitting at a computer 100% of the time. So I went along to all the uni open days and did two weeks work experience with a surveying company at the start of my gap year, and that was that!
People will say that liking maths is essential for anyone who wants to study engineering. That’s fairly true for surveying as well, but more important is the ability to learn and the motivation to get work done. That sounds like one of the soppy advertising platitudes that I hate, but it definitely applies to my job.
Working on construction sites, you end up learning about a lot of different trades and it is very handy to remember enough about them to be able to hold a useful conversation with the people you work near. The variety of different jobs we do, in different councils makes it important to be able to learn new things. Anyway, you can always learn maths.
And attention to detail is also very important. There’s nothing like mixing up 40 millimetres and 40 centimetres in height to make you find out how expensive concrete is!
In just the last year I’ve done jobs in the city, surveyed new suburbs, set-out and measured houses, flown our drone to map the ground from the air, and found 150-year-old survey marks way up in the Snowy Mountains! I always have the opportunity to learn and use new software and cool equipment, like the drone and GPS, and despite being one of the younger surveyors, I also get to train up new staff.
I also help out the local Surveying Committee which aims to aid the profession by advocating for it with the government, organising professional workshops and such. And in the future, there is definitely the opportunity to run a surveying company myself. But mostly I prefer the bit about getting to drive all over the region to do different jobs, especially in the bush.
You’re almost definitely guaranteed a job, and it will probably pay decently. If it doesn’t, go find a better company to work for because:
Surveyors are massively in demand and there are just not enough of us to keep up with all the work. Seriously.
But I would also recommend it because you can work by yourself or with people, outdoors and at a desk, in the city or in the bush or on a boat or in the sky, using your brain and your hands, working with fancy electronic equipment that shoots lasers, and you can know that you are doing something that is directly useful to other people.
However, you can also decide to study surveying at UNSW, just because the lecturers there are the best.
For more information about studying surveying and related courses, contact the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.