Marianne Foley

Marianne Foley

Dr Marianne Foley is the Principal Fire Engineer for Arup Australasia, a company that provides engineering and design services to the building industry.

At School

Marianne grew up and went to high school in the United Kingdom where she studied Maths and Science subjects, as well as English, French, Geography and Art.

Originally thought she would become a doctor, then she had second thoughts about always working with sick people.

It’s fair to say that I was much better at Maths, Sciences and English that I ever was at French or Art! There was an expectation by some teachers and career advisors that boys did science and girls did humanities, so I chose sciences.

Marianne enjoys problem solving, the joy of resolving something tricky, of finding a solution. She says she was always pretty good across the board at school, but strongest in Sciences and Maths, and enjoyed them more, especially physical experimentation.

My inspiration

I had some great STEM teachers along the way, and as a girl they always knew who I was, so
I never blended into the background in the STEM classes. It increases the motivation to do well.
My very first job was delivering papers, followed by shop work and cleaning. These jobs inspired me to get a good education.

University and first job

At university, Marianne completed a degree in Fuel and Energy Engineering then a PhD in Fire Safety Engineering.

I didn’t know much about engineering, which was a definite weakness in the school careers advice system, considering the huge range of opportunities that engineering can lead to.

Her first job after she graduated was a research position in fire engineering in the United Kingdom. Then she moved to Australia as a consultant.

Marianne stresses the importance of working in multidisciplinary teams, which provide a sort of on-the-job training and allowing her to learn more about other engineering and design disciplines.

Marianne’s advice to students

Marianne says that the key personal attributes and skills that have contributed to her success are:

  • good technical skills – taking time to deeply learn your discipline, seeking out other ideas and opinions every day, never assuming that you know the best answer, being interested in the whole of project outcomes, not just your own narrow discipline.
  • good communication skills – the ability to explain complex issues in a way that others can understand, so you can share you knowledge. Listening and questioning so that you can understand where others are coming from.
  • analytical skills, solving all sorts of problems every day.
  • design skills – not just accepting the easy answers, always questioning if there is a better way of doing something or better outcomes achievable for a project.
Work hard, tackle the difficult subjects. Thinking about the challenging things that make your brain work makes you smart. There is a huge variety in STEM subjects so don’t be disheartened if you don’t like some of them.

Be interested; never be afraid to ask a question.

And never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

It’s a joy and a great way to spend a career, working with teams of people to create great projects, solve tricky problems and deliver really good outcomes that couldn’t have been achieved without us on the project.

Marianne’s current job

She has been with Arup for over 15 years and has worked in a number of different positions, including leading a group of over 100 people across multiple specialist, planning and advisory services. Marianne is also a member of the Australasian Region Board of Directors.

As fire engineers we create safe buildings and infrastructure, with innovative designs enabling sustainability and architectural vision to be achieved.
Good design of our built environment creates better lives and opportunities for people, and a more sustainable future.

Marianne’s job includes design, engineering calculations and analysis, liaison with clients, architects and other engineers in designing buildings and infrastructure, stakeholder negotiations, building inspections and witnessing commissioning and testing.

It’s a joy and a great way to spend a career, working with teams of people to create great projects, solve tricky problems and deliver really good outcomes that couldn’t have been achieved without us on the project.

One of the highlight’s of Marianne’s career was working on the Water Cube building for the Beijing Olympics. She led the fire engineering design, with a bunch of my colleagues and they won the MacRobert Award for innovation in engineering.

We used the prize money to take everyone who had worked on the project to Beijing to visit the building. The team were, literally, in tears of joy at seeing their building (we had mostly worked remotely on the project, with most of us not having seen the completed building until then).

STEM at work

Marianne and her team create innovative designs and solve challenging problems. Most of the skills needed are STEM, plus good communication skills.

Digital technology important. Marianne works with data, we model fire scenarios in virtual buildings, we model people moving through buildings and spaces, we try to optimise and automate wherever we can.

Visualisations are used to help explain to clients and design teams, we develop apps such as one for building inspections to gather data on site and create immediate reporting to clients.

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