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When I was 15, I got a job at the local hairdressers on a Saturday washing hair. When I went to University, I was awarded a QUEST Scholarship from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) that gave me the opportunity to have work placements during my summer holidays. I worked on a motorway bridge project and a sewerage treatment works (eww!) before working as a Geotechnical Engineer when I finished University.
PhD Student (Researcher) at the University of Warwick
My research is paid for by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
I’m researching how the ground behaves when high speed trains pass over it to make sure future trains can run at high speed safely
In short, I’m a Civil Engineer (but if I want to sound super clever I’m actually a Geotechnical Engineer!). This means I design things that are constructed in the ground, like tunnels, basements and slopes, and make sure that buildings like your school aren’t going to sink into the ground.
At the moment I’m completing my PhD at University which means I’m currently a Researcher and will hopefully one day be a Doctor (but not a medical one!). I’m looking at how the ground beneath railway tracks responds to vibrations from high speed trains. This is a really important topic, particularly with High Speed 2 (HS2) which you may have heard about in the news. These vibrations are, in some ways, like earthquakes which cause the ground to shake but they continue for many many years over the lifetime of the railway (for 120 years!). The vibrations impact the strength of the soil beneath the railway tracks and cause settlement or movement of the ground which can result in ‘dips’ in the railway line.
My job is to develop a model with lots of maths that is able to calculate the movement of the ground beneath high speed trains. By understanding this, the model will help Engineers to better design the structures that sit on the ground. Better designed structures will make sure trains run safely at high speeds and make sure there aren’t lots of delays to peoples journeys due to speed restrictions and repairs to the tracks.
My Typical Day
Coffee, lab work, problem solving, maths and communicating with colleagues and students
My days has changed quite a lot recently and I’ve gone from working on HUGE projects to working on my own personal project looking at tiny soil samples. Before my PhD I was working on big projects like the Doha Metro in Qatar where the 2022 World Cup is being held. I’m really lucky that the company I was working with have let me study more and I still talk with them about my research.
Now, my day revolves around attending University where I’m paid to learn! (Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it?). At the moment I’m doing lots of laboratory work but the one bad thing about lab work as it can take forever. This is a picture of my experiment at the moment. I’m using a special piece of equipment called a cyclic triaxial machine which applies repeated loading (lots of controlled up and down movements) to the soil sample I make. the soil sample sits in this cell (the big glass cylinder thats covering the equipment). This test allows me to see how the soil behaves under what’s called cyclic loading and is similar to how the soil behaves in real life beneath the railway tracks.
When my lab work is running, I spend my time working on the computer and maths side of things. I was never really in to computer programming at school but I now love it and I am using a type of code to create my model. This means I have to understand the soil behaviour from the tests and use maths and physics to describe what I see in the tests.
As well as working on my project, I have to be able to talk with other researchers (so we aren’t all studying the same thing!). I’m lucky enough to be going abroad to visit a different University and I get to travel abroad to conferences to talk about my research.
What I'd do with the money
I’d love to create some really cool Civil Engineering activities that I can bring into schools!
I want to develop activities that fit with both talking about Engineering (and all the Maths and Physics) but also things like Geography and History (which I also use as a Geotechnical Engineer). Most importantly I want to create activities that are fun for you! I’d use the money to buy materials and equipment to be able to run some Civil Engineering activites at schools (think about trying to build structures in earthquakes or even surviving a zombie attack!). Civil Engineering is all around us! If you look at how you’ve got to school today; you’ve woken up in a house, showered and cleaned your teeth in water provided to your home, travelled along roads or on the train, maybe over bridges, and arrived at school. All these thing involve Civil Engineering and I hope the activities I can create with the money will show you all how varied (and cool) Civil Engineering is!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Funny, Friendly, Engineer
Who is your favourite singer or band?
My favourite band is Oasis – I’m from Manchester so it’s ingrained in me!
What's your favourite food?
Pie, chips and gravy!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I ran a Wolf Run (it’s a 10km super muddy obstacle course)
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be an Architect but loved maths so I found out about Civil Engineering. I always wanted to build huge skyscrapers and massive bridges, I’d never thought of how they stand up in the ground!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Only a teeny bit! I used to get told off for my school uniform, but I always did my homework and I was a bit of a teachers pet really.
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
Working on huge projects like the Doha Metroline was an amazing experience. It’s really rewarding seeing the things you’ve been involved in designing actually being built.
If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?
I love watching things like 24 hours in A&E so maybe a Doctor? I think I’m too squeamish though!
Tell us a joke.
Doctor! Doctor! I feel like a pair of curtains …. Well pull yourself together then!
Here are some pictures of my workplace. I’m mainly working in two places at the moment; at my desk in my office and in the laboratory. Here’s some pictures of where I’m working, with my desk the tidiest it’s ever been!
Here are some of the lab tests and soil samples I’ve made and tested. I make these samples from a mixture of sand and clay and push them into a mould to make a cylinder. Can you guess which test went wrong?!
And finally here’s a picture of the Wolf Run I completed!