Alastair ShipmanTransport Section
Supervised by Dr Arnab Majumdar

Alastair holds a Master’s degree from the University of Oxford and before joining Imperial College worked for three years as an Oil and Gas Engineer, looking at designing oil wells in the North Sea.

Why did you decide to undertake a PhD within the CDT in Sustainable Civil Engineering?

I primarily started the PhD because I was interested in the research area, and having discussed it at the time with my supervisor, I thought I could really enjoy working on it for the full four years.

I also saw the opportunities available in the initial Centre for Doctoral Training lecture series, and the Graduate School, allowing us to form a cohort and giving us training outside our research area.

Tell us about your research.

My research looks at pedestrian dynamics, specifically looking at how people move and act during emergency evacuations. I aim to produce computer models that will mimic this movement, so that we can test out various building designs and crowd management techniques.

I’m specifically looking at how people move during terrorist attacks, which poses a unique set of problems with respect to data gathering and analysis.

What impact do you hope your research will have/what do you hope your research will lead on to?

Pedestrian dynamics is establishing itself as an industry, and a PhD will allow me to either pursue further academic work within the area, or allow me to move into a specific company role.

Does your research involve working with collaborators outside of the Department? If so who and why?

Absolutely, my work is hugely multidisciplinary, requiring that I look at social sciences, behavioural sciences, computer science, transport engineering, and risk management.

Given this multi-disciplinary nature, I am looking to work with multiple universities and institutions.

What is a typical week working like for you?

The huge advantage of a PhD is that you are in complete control of your schedule. I usually get into the office between 8-9, and leave between 5-6. However, if I have personal errands, then I can work at home, or work different hours.

Outside of the primary research role, I work as a tutor and a Graduate Teaching Assistant (there are invigilation and teaching roles available), which can supplement any PhD stipend.

How have your skills developed, both professional and personal?

A PhD is the best training there is for developing research skills. As this program has the secondary elements of the CDT Lecture Series and Graduate School, there are many opportunities to develop further professional skills and build up a network of colleagues and friends.

All of these combined have contributed toward my engineering chartership application, which I’ll be submitting at the end of the year.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the CDT in the Department?

Probably the best thing about being part of the CDT is the fact that there is a cohort that all start at the same time. People often think about PhDs as lonely pieces of work, and that is sometimes true. However, it is massively improved when you can walk around the department and know people from several different year groups in different areas of research.

What advice you would give someone considering joining the CDT?

It is crucial to ensure that you enjoy the subject enough to study it for four years, as there will be periods when you lose motivation. Also, it is just as important to understand whether you can afford to live in London on a reduced income, as you don’t want finances to be the reason you can’t complete your studies!