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Insights Tiffany Chan: Leading sustainable tunnel projects

Championing Change in Tunnel Engineering

As the Associate Director for Tunnels and Ground Engineering at AtkinsRéalis Hong Kong, my role revolves around spearheading technical leadership and project management for tunnel projects, predominantly focusing on design and build. 

Collaborating with a consultant design team, we strategize to deliver optimal solutions for rail, road, and utility tunnels while ensuring seamless coordination among clients, contractors, and diverse design teams.

Impactful projects: enhancing lives and infrastructure

What invigorates me most in my role is witnessing our projects significantly improve people's lives. Steering numerous large-scale projects from conception to execution, such as the Liantang Tunnel and the Harbor Area Treatment Scheme, has been immensely fulfilling. 

For instance, the Liantang Tunnel has enhanced Hong Kong's regional connectivity, benefiting its economy, while initiatives like the Dubai Metro have bolstered sustainability by reducing emissions and fostering employment.

AtkinsRéalis: A growth journey

Joining AtkinsRéalis 19 years ago as a graduate engineer, I've evolved from an aspiring engineer to an Associate Director while experiencing pivotal life moments. 

AtkinsRéalis's nurturing environment and continual growth have been instrumental in my professional and personal development. The company's transformation from a small department to a thriving team of 30 demonstrates its commitment to nurturing talent.

Career-defining moment: Dubai Metro Project

My pivotal moment arrived with the Dubai Metro Red Line and Green Line project in 2007. Steering this groundbreaking project expanded my horizons beyond Hong Kong's conventional design standards. 

Working amidst varied geological conditions, we established novel engineering models, and I evolved from a follower to a confident leader, managing cross-country engineering coordination.

Navigating a male-dominated landscape

In a predominantly male-driven industry, demonstrating my capabilities and assuming key roles has been a notable challenge. AtkinsRéalis' unwavering support and a collaborative team culture have facilitated a conducive environment where I thrive professionally while balancing family responsibilities. 

The company's commitment to diversity and inclusion has reshaped industry perceptions, encouraging more women to venture into tunnel engineering. 

Fostering success through people

My devotion to AtkinsRéalis stems from its emphasis on project success through its people-centric approach. The company's dedication to employee training, a culture of innovation, and access to monumental projects has shaped my journey. 

AtkinsRéalis provides opportunities for every individual's growth and encourages proactive participation for those aspiring to advance swiftly or contribute to pioneering projects.

Join our journey at AtkinsRéalis

Inspired by Tiffany's narrative? Unveil the array of career opportunities available at every stage with us. 

AtkinsRéalis is actively seeking enthusiastic talents ready to contribute to impactful projects and drive innovation in engineering. Explore job opportunities by signing up for our job alerts today.

I’m Tiffany Chan, Associate Director for Tunnels and Ground Engineering at the Hong Kong office. My role is technical leader and project management for tunnel projects, mainly in design and build. I lead a consultant design team to find the best solutions when it comes to building tunnels for rail, roads and utilities. My role involves technical calculations, as well as coordination between clients, contractors, and different design teams.

What I love most about my job

Definitely how all our projects help to make people’s lives better. I’ve been involved in several large scale projects from end to end. Most recently my team worked on the Liantang Tunnel. This highways tunnel provides access to the new boundary control point and is already benefiting Hong Kong’s economy and people in the region. The Harbor Area Treatment Scheme is a tunnel network that conveys sewage to treatment works, improving water quality in the harbor area. We also worked on Dubai Metro, the first rapid transit rail network in the Middle East. It’s cutting carbon emissions, road accidents, and improving employment in the Emirate.

I also really enjoy solving difficult problems. All civils projects present different types of challenges. When faced with one, our whole team brainstorms and works together. I love this collaborative culture we have across the different disciplines.

Atkins, then and now.

Atkins was my first job and I’ve been here for 19 years. I started as a graduate engineer, became an associate director, developed from a young engineer to a mother of two. I still remember my interview, where I first learned about tunnel design, and was impressed at how ‘human’ the company felt. It still feels that way, even though we’re now one of the biggest consultants companies in Hong Kong!

Since then, I feel I’ve grown with the company. I joined when there were only 12 people in the tunnel department – now we have an experienced team of 30. I’ve been mentored personally and professionally by senior staff and colleagues who believed in me and encouraged my development. The company has supported me through all my milestones, from training as a chartered engineer to managing a growing family.

My career defining opportunity.

The most critical project in my career was the Dubai Metro Red Line and Green Line. I got involved in this project in 2007. After a few months in, I was stationed in Dubai for two years until the design work was largely completed.

Dubai’s different geological conditions and design requirements were challenging compared to the “typical” design works I was used to in Hong Kong. Since it was the first railway project and the first tunnel project in Dubai, we had to fully justify every engineering decision, and establish our own engineering models – from geological to structural design criteria. 

It was my first overseas project, which widened my knowledge from being localized in Hong Kong. It gave me the opportunity to take on much more responsibility as the key coordinator between the Hong Kong design team and Dubai construction team. This project was the turning point for me, from being an engineer who followed instructions, to a leader who manages works using her own engineering judgement.

A woman in a male-dominated industry

My key challenge in engineering has been demonstrating that I’m not just a follower. Showing that I have the ability just like anyone else in the team, and that I could take up the key role. My approach has been to equip myself, staying one step ahead of what my peers are doing.

At Atkins, thanks to the support I have from senior management and colleagues, I don’t experience much difficulty, and I feel very comfortable working in my team. After I became a mother, I found I had to put much more time into my family. Everything depended on finding the right balance. I’ve really appreciated how Atkins has helped me be my best at home, and professionally through flexible working.

Diversity and inclusion in the industry

When I was a graduate engineer, many contractors believed if women went into tunnels before break-through, we would bring them bad luck. I was once even prohibited from doing an inspection inside a tunnel because of that superstition. However, the industry has changed in the last five to 10 years. More and more women are working as tunnel engineers and the Hong Kong government has put pressure on contractors to release this unreasonable restriction on women.

We have now more female consultants in engineering. And we have shown that we can do the same tasks as men, to the same quality. I do believe this will not be seen as a male dominated area for long, and gender will not be a barrier.

Atkins has been promoting women in engineering for many years. As a company we’ve demonstrated from upper management, to all our staff and the industry that we should value women as much as men. Today Atkins has many women engineers who do very well in the industry – and we now have our first female managing director, Catherine Li.

What keeps me at Atkins

I love working at Atkins because of the way we focus on the success of projects through people. It has meant I’ve had access to excellent training, from technical skills to professional development. I’ve had opportunities to do work I’m extremely proud of – including successful construction of innovative design ideas, and mega projects.

There are opportunities for everyone at Atkins. If you’re a young woman who wants to progress your career quickly, demonstrate your abilities. Want to work on one of those “glory projects”? Don’t just sit and wait, speak up. Be prepared and trust yourself!

Inspired by Tiffany’s story? Discover the opportunities we offer at every career stage, we’re hiring.