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Civil and Structural Engineering: MEng (Hons) graduated 2016.

PhD student, Newcastle University

I am researching the process of school reconstruction in rural Nepal, identifying materials and technologies used, and the barriers to implementing these successfully and efficiently. I carry out field work in Nepal, visiting rural schools and interviewing different stakeholders involved in the process.


What was your reason for choosing your programme of study at Newcastle University?

I chose to study civil engineering because it seemed like a very useful and practical subject – you get to create real things that help society. I chose the structures stream of the course because I was particularly interested in the buildings and bridges aspects of the subject.


Why did you choose Newcastle University and not another institution?

I chose Newcastle because you get to cover such a broad range of topics throughout the course. I really liked balance of design work, practical sessions in the lab, and lecture content. The staff I’d met on the open days were all very friendly and I was made to feel very welcome.

Newcastle University as a whole was also really nice, having a really nice campus feel, while being so close to the city centre.


What did you enjoy most about studying at Newcastle University?

As part of one of the final year modules, a team of us travelled to a remote community in Malaysian Borneo and worked with the community to construct a gravity-fed water system. This was such a good experience! It was a great way to combine all of what I’d learnt throughout the course and apply it to a real-life situation, with a successful end result.


Did you take part in any placements during your degree at Newcastle? If yes, how did this help you in your current role?

I did three placements with consultant engineers during my degree, one after each of the first three years of the course.

The first two of these were with a small local company near to my home, and the third was through an official summer internship program with a much larger company. All three were great experience to practice some of what I’d learnt during my time at university.

It was really useful to see how engineering projects are actually delivered, and the challenges of working with architects, clients and contractors, which is something I am investigating within my PhD research. Placements were also good practice at having to work independently and were a good way to boost my confidence.


How has your programme of study helped you so far in your employment?

The focus on sustainability and the human aspects of engineering have been really useful in preparing me for my PhD research, as these are both very important to consider within my project. The structures modules were all really useful when looking at the designs used for reconstructed schools, and the global engineering module was a very good opportunity to begin to understand some of the challenges of working in a developing country in very remote locations, which is key within my PhD.

In general, the course also encouraged independent working, and the design projects and dissertation in particular were great practice at working on a very large, open ended task and building skills of independent research which have all been very useful.


What attracted you to work for your current employer?

I chose to do my PhD at Newcastle University as I had already had a really good undergraduate experience there. I had also already worked with the staff who are now my PhD supervisors, and knew they would be a really good team to work with.


What skills have you gained so far in your role?

My research requires using social science research techniques in interviewing participants in my study, so I have had a lot to learn to use these correctly. Alongside that, I have also improved in my communication skills, talking to a wide variety of people from different cultures, backgrounds and professions. I am also learning the process of how to conduct a research project, searching literature and presenting my research.


What have been the highlights of your employment so far?

Conducting my fieldwork in Nepal. It was so good to experience a different culture and see the engineering profession in a very different context than what I’d seen before in the UK. It was great to put into action the methodologies I had been researching, and seeing first-hand what I had been reading about.


What projects are you involved in at the moment and how are you utilising your skills?

Within my research project I visited and am following the reconstruction of several schools in Nepal, interviewing a number of stakeholders involved in the projects. I am now planning my second field work trip to Nepal, utilising the skills and lessons I learnt during my first visit.

As well as my PhD work, I have also done some work with the undergraduate programme – assisting in tutorials and helping students with subjects that I studied during my degree, and I also have arranged questionnaires to look at how we can improve the quality of assessment and feedback, and I'm collating a guide for students on shared working and common room spaces for the School of Engineering.


What key skills are you applying to your current role?

Communication skills are crucial within my PhD – initially arranging case studies and meetings with a range of stakeholders, and then conducting interviews with them. Communication is also really important when disseminating my research, giving seminars and presentations to discuss my findings.

Conducting independent research is another key skill – organising and planning my research, searching literature, and writing up findings. As well as this, my newly acquired skill of conducting social science research is very important, writing interview questions and analysing qualitative data, ensuring that my research limits bias and gives detailed and accurate results.


What support did you receive from Newcastle University in searching for employment?

The lecturers in school were really helpful, meeting with me to discuss what a PhD involved and whether it was the right choice for me. They also highlighted several PhD opportunities that were available, as well as giving me guidance on my application and project proposal.

I also visited the Newcastle University Careers Service, who provided guidance on my cover letter, CV and other relevant documents.


What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I hope to end up within the NGO sector, or the UN or similar, working internationally. I want to retain my basis in structural engineering, applying this to improving resilience to disasters or rebuilding in a post-disaster context.


What advice would you give to students considering a degree in your subject? Why should they chose Newcastle? How do you think Newcastle University differs from other universities?

Civil engineering is a great opportunity to explore so many different disciplines with a wide range of academic skills. It also opens up so many different career options which could take you all over the world!

I loved my time as an undergraduate at Newcastle – the staff are all very friendly and really supportive of the students. The course is a great balance of lectures, lab/field work and computer practical sessions. The yearly sustainable design project is an excellent module to tie together lots of the content you have learnt during the year, and get experience of working in a group, which really helps to solidify your learning and is great experience for going into industry. The course at Newcastle also has a really good focus on sustainability, and also the environmental discipline.