Katherine graduated from our PhD programme in 2010. He thesis was on the Ultimate behaviour of floor slabs under extreme loading conditions, under the supervision of Professor Ahmed Elghazouli and Professor Bassam Izzuddin. Post-graduation, Katherine went into industry for a few years, before moving on to the Steel Construction Institute (SCI). She is now a Lecturer in Structural Engineering at Brunel University London.

Why did you choose to study at Imperial?
I chose to come to Imperial first and foremost for the project, which interested me immediately.  I was always interested in structural engineering and the fact that my PhD project combined analytical, numerical and experimental studies was very attractive.  In addition, of course, I was very aware of the internationally-recognised outstanding reputation that Imperial has, especially in Civil Engineering.  After taking advice from lecturers at my previous universities, and family, it was an easy decision to come to Imperial.

What have you done since leaving Imperial?
In 2009, after completing my PhD and time at Imperial, I was very keen to work in a different environment for a few years, in order to gain exposure to “real” engineering applications.  Therefore, I joined the structural engineering consultancy, High-Point Rendel (HPR) Ltd., where I worked on a number of different design projects (e.g. London Underground upgrades, Thames Barrier works) and I also became involved in construction management. I quickly realised that although this work was interesting, it probably wasn’t the best match for me, as I was still very interested in research. So, I joined the Steel Construction Institute (SCI) in 2010, which is based in Ascot, Berkshire. The SCI is a commercial research and development institute which also offers bespoke consultancy and advisory services as well as producing various guidance and review publications. One of the main aspects of my role at the SCI was to take part in, and manage, research projects.  After a really enjoyable two years at the SCI, I decided to move back to a University environment when the option arose and joined Brunel University London as a Lecturer in Structural Engineering. 

Since being at Brunel, I have been engaged in teaching Structural Engineering modules to both undergraduate and postgraduate students and I have supervised many UG and MSc students in their dissertations, as well as 10 PhD students to completion (so far).  I am now a Senior Lecturer and I greatly enjoy my job, particularly the interaction with students and also being able to focus on research.  I credit Imperial with giving her the skills and confidence to pursue an academic career, and I remain highly motivated to continue improving my fundamental knowledge of how different types of structure behave. My principal research interests continue to lie in the area of structural testing, numerical modelling and the development of efficient design guidance for steel and composite structures, building on my PhD experience. In particular, I have developed an expertise in the analysis of structural response during extreme loading conditions, such as a fire. 

Outside of this work, I am a Chartered Engineer (CEng), a fellow of the ICE (FICE) and member of the IStructE (MIStructE). I am also actively involved in the Institution of Structural Engineers, and currently serve as a member of their Council.  I am also a member of the Joint Board of Moderators, the national accreditation body, and a past Chair of the Great Britain region of Engineers Ireland.

What has been your most rewarding project and you have worked on and why?
Perhaps not directly answering the question, but I would say that the most gratifying aspect of my work to date has been supervising a large number of PhD students and watching them develop and grow into capable, confident and independent researchers.  The relationship that develops between a PhD student and their supervisor is very rewarding, and involves many one-to-one meetings and interactions, as well as a lot of trust.   I was fortunate to have two excellent supervisors for my own PhD at Imperial, who really showed me through their actions and support how valuable a good, engaged PhD supervisor is to their students.

How has your degree helped?
My time at Imperial, and my PhD degree qualification, has given me countless benefits in my career and life that has followed.  Of course, there is the technical knowledge and confidence in that knowledge, as well as a fundamental understanding of how to work with different types of analyses/research tools and also stakeholders.  Being an Imperial graduate is globally-recognised and appreciated as being an indicator of some degree of success and ability, and that undoubtedly opened doors for me.  One of the most rewarding ways in which my degree and time at Imperial has helped me is through providing me with a network of colleagues, friends and collaborators both in the UK and abroad.  Many of my office-mates and colleagues during my time at Imperial are now leading academics and engineers around the world, and I feel fortunate to have that network of support.

What would be your advice to a student starting out on a career in Civil and Environmental Engineering?
I would advise them to work hard (of course!) and value the time that they have as students to really understand the topics that they are being taught.  This time is hard to find once they enter the workplace!  In addition, for students at Imperial, I would encourage them to embrace the resources and facilities that they have available to them, and take advantage of all opportunities to learn from the environment that they are in and the people they are surrounded by.   Going forward with their careers, they should be open-minded about opportunities that come their way. Try to do subjects and work that you enjoy, and this will make everything much easier.