Student Profile: David Fairbairn
I did an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Meteorology at the University of Reading. I continued at Reading to do a Masters Degree in Mathematics of Scientific and Industrial Computation.
My research looks at ways of improving data assimilation of previous weather forecasts and observations, using simple numerical models of the atmosphere. Extending the assimilation window should allow the assimilation of more observations and hence improve the accuracy of the analysis. Improving data assimilation will improve weather and climate forecasts, including forecasts of extreme weather (such as extreme rainfall) that result from climate change.
I am interested in mathematical optimisation problems, which is exactly what the project is based around. Since I am also interested in the weather it is great to link my research to improving weather forecasting. The fact that my project is indirectly linked to sustainability issues (such as predicting climate change) makes it more valuable.
I was attracted to Surrey by its good reputation in postgraduate research. Most importantly, the EngD programme is very well established at Surrey, and the support they offer you (including courses such as project management) is very good. My industrial supervisor offers technical help relating to my project and helps me to understand how my project fits in with the wider plans of the Met Office. My academic supervisors help with understanding the mathematical side to my project and how it links to sustainability for engineering and energy systems.
The EngD will provide opportunities for me to work in fields related both to my practical and academic experience. I’ve gained practical skills in numerical programming and the knowledge of data assimilation systems, but I also feel the EngD has made me more aware of sustainability issues and how it is possible to move to a low carbon economy. I feel that I will be able to build on my project after my EngD, which could help towards promoting sustainability. This could be by improving data assimilation methods further or by moving to a career concerning the environment. The skills I have learnt should offer both opportunities.
I was attracted to the EngD by the opportunity to conduct a project that would have direct relevance to the UK water industry
- Project name:
- The fate and environmental effects of trace metals in wastewater effluent
- Company name:
- Severn Trent Water
I originally studied for a business degree and have worked most recently in the e-commerce sector managing a team of procurement analysts. In order to pursue a career in science, I subsequently completed an MSc in Environmental Science at Brunel University prior to commencing my EngD research project.
My research project is an investigation into the extent by which the fate and environmental effects of trace metals in wastewater effluent differs in comparison to that in natural waters. An important outcome of this research will be an understanding of the extent by which computer models that have been developed to predict the environmental fate and effects of a number of trace metals in natural waters may be reasonably applied to wastewater impacted waters. This is of particular relevance in the UK, where effluent discharges from wastewater treatment works are known to contribute substantially to the base flow of many rivers.
I was attracted to the EngD programme by the opportunity to conduct a water quality related research project that would have direct relevance to the UK water industry. In addition, it was also an opportunity for me to identify the skills that the UK water industry valued and were likely to value in future. I felt that the taught programme would provide useful skills and perspective, and that the formal six-monthly reporting requirements would enable a realistic assessment of progress.
The opportunity to work within industry has been invaluable in that it has enabled a first-hand appreciation of the commercial and regulatory imperatives that substantially influence industry involvement in research. The links to a university have, however, been useful in that they have enabled me to maintain an objectivity that has also encouraged the development of critical thinking skills. In combination, I believe these experiences have enabled me to develop a well balanced perspective.
The EngD has provided me with an array of skills that will no doubt enable many career opportunities. However, probably the most significant benefit in my view has been a recognition that the skills I have gained can potentially be applied in a multitude of roles, and in a variety of industries. I find the degree of career freedom and control that this enables to be perhaps the greatest and most attractive benefit.
The EngD is focused toward working with industry to fill specific gaps in knowledge.
- Project name:
- Incorporating Industrial Symbiosis into Regional Resource Planning
- Company name:
- National Industrial Symbiosis Programme
Originally an electronics engineer, I returned to education as a mature student 10 years ago with the intention of making a complete career change. Initially undertaking a variety of practical countryside management courses, such as hedgelaying and dry stone wall building, I went on to study for an Honours Degree in Environmental Conservation, a Research Masters Degree in Environmental Technology and, so far, three years of the EngD in Environmental Technology Programme .
The Regional Resource Planning project is informed by the emerging discipline of industrial ecology. Industrial ecology is the study of industrial systems and their component parts from the perspective of biological ecology. By transferring our understanding of ecosystems development and functioning to industrial systems, it is argued that industry can be encouraged to develop toward a more environmentally benign and resourceful state.
The role of the Regional Resource Planning project is to develop both the ecological theory that underpins the science of industrial ecology and produce tools capable of identifying opportunities for regional eco-industrial development via the practice of industrial symbiosis.
Working with industry gives you sense of the current state of affairs and operational behaviour of a given industrial sector that is hard to acquire through being primarily based within a university. Access to a university is, however, still essential to producing sound research and effective project outputs.
The EngD allows you to take advantage of the connections, skills and opportunities of industry, and to access the research and library facilities of a university.
- Project name:
- Carbon Dioxide monitoring mission design for climate change model parameterisation and carbon accounting
- Company name:
- DMC International Imaging
I studied physics at the University of Oxford, specialising in Astrophysics and Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics. I then spent two years teaching secondary school science in Essex, before returning to research with the University of Surrey EngD in Environmental Technology.
I was attracted to the University of Surrey because it is home to the Surrey Space Centre and the birthplace of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, who are both world-leaders in small satellite technology. Being able to work in conjunction with these organisations was a fantastic opportunity.
My primary reason for applying to the EngD programme was that I was strongly attracted to the project. In addition, working with a company on a problem provides an additional level of challenge and opens up opportunities for collaboration.
The project I’ve been involved with has the over-arching goal of studying and designing systems for measuring and monitoring carbon on a systematic basis using satellites as the observing platform. Areas of study have ranged from the sensors and the satellites that carry them in orbit to the algorithms used to convert the raw image data into carbon estimates.
I’ve always had an interest in the environment and during my undergraduate days I developed an interest in the climate change issue and atmospheric physics.
I was also interested in working in a small company atmosphere, and DMCii are a small, fast-growing company.
The Research Engineer position allows you to take advantage of the connections, skills and opportunities of industry, and to access the research and library facilities of a university. The key to success is learning to balance the two to get what you need to make your project work.
The supervisory relationship is hugely important to the success of the project. Supervisors can provide an interface between the project and the company, can introduce you to well-placed contacts, and can help to provide you with a sounding board when you’re working to define the project’s direction.
The EngD has given me the skills to produce persuasive arguments, and to wear a variety of ‘hats’ to best pursue my project. The skills and experience the EngD has given me, combined with the knowledge from the taught modules, will open up a wide range of career options across the environmental sector and beyond.
The University of Surrey has an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching and research
- Project name:
- Improving the health aspects of odour exposure and incident management
- Company name:
- Health Protection Agency (HPA)
My first degree was a joint honours BSc in Biology and Geology from Goldsmiths College, which was at the time, part of the University of London.
Following a couple of years teaching experience in a tutorial college, I decided that I would like to have a more active role in environmental matters. I therefore had subsequent jobs with Surrey County Council, London Waste Regulation Authority and the Environment Agency in posts concerned with environmental regulation. Whilst at LWRA, I was able to undertake an MSc in Environmental Pollution Science at the University of Brunel.
The University of Surrey has an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching and research and also has world-class facilities on offer therefore I really wanted to complete my EngD here.
My ambition was and is to utilise the skills and experience I have gained in industry and to bring this together with academic research. The integration of science and technology resulting in practical outcomes for sustainability issues makes the EngD stand head and shoulders above other qualifications.
My EngD is based at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in London. The project appealed to me as I had come across the particular issues of odour and potential health effects while in industry. I think that the HPA are forward-thinking in terms of sponsoring this topic and tackling an issue of such importance.
The project aims to develop methods to better estimate public exposure to chemicals involved in, or associated with, odour complaints. The project will develop tools to help assess the health effects of odour exposure from industrial processes and incidents such as chemical leaks. In order to estimate the public’s exposure to the chemicals associated with odours, the doctorate will investigate the dispersion of odour in urban and rural environments. The results will lead to a greater understanding of the factors governing pollutant distribution in these settings. Tools and guidance to help assess health effects are also being developed via the investigation of a number of odour incidents where the HPA has been asked for advice.
Committing four years of my life to the EngD programme was a huge decision. One of the reasons is that I wanted to make a difference. I believe the project has given me the vehicle to make that change. Both my industrial supervisor and academic supervisor are very important to me. My industrial supervisor is on hand to mentor my industrial activities, while my academic supervisor points me in the right, having many years of research experience. It is important to establish a good working relationship with supervisors and to meet on a regular basis.
My EngD should enhance my career prospects in a very positive way. I would like to think that prospective employers would see not just the EngD as a qualification but additionally as 4 years of invaluable work experience.
The chance of working with the project sponsor was a real attraction
- Project name:
- Designing Transpired Solar Collectors for Modern Steel Buildings
- Company name:
- The Steel Construction Institute
I entered the EngD program after finishing a Masters (MEng) in Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).
During my MEng, I had a placement at AMEC Wind Energy in Hexham, Northumberland. Working under the Head of Engineering, I did various jobs relating to the environmental impact assessment of a proposed 234 turbine wind farm.
After completing my MEng, I wanted to continue my education and considered both a conventional PhD and the EngD. One of my favourite lecturers at university had studied for a PhD at Surrey, and as he gave Surrey a lot of praise, I was confident that Surrey would be a great place to do an EngD.
There are three clear reasons why I chose the EngD over the PhD. The taught course in environmental strategy, which as I did a straight civil engineering masters, enabled me to obtain the required knowledge needed to develop my career in renewable energy engineering. Secondly, as an engineer, the idea of doing an engineering-focused doctorate was hugely attractive. Finally, on a practical level, the higher bursary payment compared to the PhD meant that there was no economic barrier to entering the EngD programme.
My EngD sponsor is the Steel Construction Institute (SCI). I am working to develop an improved way of modelling a solar air heating technology which recently entered the UK market. The Transpired Solar Collector (TSC) heats a building’s ventilation air supply by drawing it though a solar heated perforated steel sheet. This has been hugely successful in Canada and mainland Europe. Through our project, we have developed a state-of-the-art dynamic simulation model which can be used to predict and optimise the performance of the current and next generation of TSCs.
The chance of working with the project sponsor was a real attraction. Within the construction industry, the Steel Construction Institute is one of the knowledge leaders and the opportunity to work with them on a renewable energy related project was attractive.
Working in renewable energy requires a broad range of skills, ranging from the hard business skills of economics to the science of meteorology. The scope of the EngD project is wider than a convention PhD and has required me to develop my skills in a wide range of subject areas which I feel will be hugely valuable in my future career.
The EngD has provided the knowledge and motivation to become an agent of change
- Project name:
- Evaluation of the life cycle environmental impacts of products and their integration into a bespoke decision support framework
- Company name:
I graduated from Salford University in 2005 with a 1st Class MEng in Aeronautical Engineering, including a Diploma in Professional Studies gained through a 15-month industrial placement at Cummins Turbo Technologies. I then worked for 2 years as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Associate between Salford University and Hughes Safety Showers Ltd., a small/medium enterprise specialising in the manufacture of emergency safety equipment. At the end of the KTP I was employed by Hughes, successfully managing a £1 million tender for NHS safety equipment.
I joined the EngD programme in October 2007 as I wanted to work in the environmental discipline but didn’t want to go back into non-paid education to get the necessary qualifications. The EngD provided the perfect package: experience, qualifications and a good salary. My experience developing design systems coupled with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering made an environmental design project based at Rolls-Royce a good fit.
The project has developed a framework for integrating environmental considerations into design decisions to enable Rolls-Royce to reduce the environmental impacts of its products. The framework translates environmental information into an assessment of business risk, consistent with existing design decision-making process. The translation is achieved through combining environmental analysis and business risk management techniques.
Working in industry allows a researcher to see both sides of the coin: the knowledge, ideas and possibilities of what can be achieved, tempered by the complexities of actually implementing change in the real world. It’s exciting and frustrating at the same time, and requires a lot of tenacity. Whilst working in industry it can also be easy to lose sight of the fact that an EngD is an academic project. I’ve found my supervisors very important in keeping my project on track in this respect.
I definitely feel that the EngD has provided the knowledge and motivation to become an agent of change. My current goal is to work in a sustainability role within industry, and the EngD is the perfect starting point to achieve this. The EngD has started a process of developing the required skills and experience, which will probably continue throughout my career. I’ve found the networks and contacts I’ve developed through the EngD are valuable when considering my next step.
As an EngD graduate you have expert knowledge and business experience, which will encompass the development and communication of complex issues and concepts to senior people. It’s an impressive mix, and generally presents too many options after the EngD, which is better than none!
The EngD gave me the opportunity to complete research in a field that I’m interested in, while remaining with my employer.
- Project name:
- Sustainable design of lower carbon buildings in a changing climate
- Company name:
- Parsons Brinckerhoff
After completing an MEng in Mechanical Engineering at Cardiff University, I worked for Ove Arup and Partners for two years before joining Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) in 2005. I worked with PB for approximately three years before starting the EngD focussing mainly on the thermal and energy analysis of buildings.
I have been interested in completing a postgraduate research degree since leaving full time education. The EngD gave me the opportunity to complete research in a field that I’m interested in, while remaining with my employer. The EngD is much better aligned with industry needs compared to a normal PhD. I was able to develop a project that is of interest to myself, of value to my employer and of potential benefit to the industry.
As an existing Parsons Brinckerhoff employee, I was responsible for developing the project title and objectives of my EngD. I was confident that the industry would be developing in the areas of life cycle thinking and climate change adaptation. This has been realised, so my work is now quite timely.
My project is to build a framework that will allow engineers to determine the carbon emissions from buildings as affected by future climate change. In doing thing this, I’m investigating the whole life cycle of a building, including the carbon embodied in the fabric as well as that emitted during operation of the building. This is important because as an industry we need to make sure that the low energy buildings we design today remain efficient throughout their operational lifespan.
Having links back to the University of Surrey has advantages. As I have an engineering background, the social science aspect of many of the modules has been useful. The modules on scientific writing have also been valuable. In addition to this, having feedback from the University on my research work is useful as I can get a non-industrial perspective on the value of my research.
I was impressed by the CES department when I first visited, particularly in the range of work being completed. Also, as my employer is based in Godalming, the locality was also an influencing factor in choosing. In addition to this, we have had a number of placement students from Surrey over the last few years, and have been impressed with the quality of students we have seen.
Completing the EngD has allowed me to access a number of steering committees and institution groups that I had not previously been exposed to. I have also been able to present my work to a number of groups throughout the industry and academia, building confidence in presenting new ideas.
Once I’ve finished the EngD I would like to develop the level of Research and Development we complete within Parsons Brinckerhoff and head up our Building Physics team. I think the EngD has certainly aided me on this path.