Tell us more about your current role
I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sheffield. At the moment, I am conducting experimental studies in mixing and pollutant transport in emergent vegetation. A typical day involves getting data from the lab, analysing images and writing papers. On the one hand, the most rewarding aspect is the academic outputs in terms of published research. On the other, some of the challenges associated with working in research are connected to the timescales and how long it might take for a certain experiment to be completed and then replicated.
Thinking back to your degree how do you think it prepared you for your current role - what skills did you learn that you put into practice?
The University has extremely well-equipped facilities and laboratories, the techniques I learned in terms of image acquisition for fluid dynamics experiments are cutting-edge. Also, the support from amazing academics has given me the skills to compile, write and share my findings in a professional way.
How have these skills or your course made a difference in your career?
My work is in the intersection of fundamental theory of fluid dynamics and engineering application, as such, both the MSc and PhD has given me the technical skills (instruments, data/image analysis techniques) to understand the underlying physics of problems of relevance in engineering and environmental practice.
Why did you choose to study at Sheffield?
Following my civil engineering bachelor degree in Colombia, I got a job working for a water engineering consultancy designing hydraulic networks. I enjoyed the real-life use of my engineering knowledge, but it also felt slightly restrictive and monotonous. I decided I wanted to continue educating myself and explore working on developing novel solutions.
I attended a university fair back home in Colombia and got to learn more about the programme, facilities and lecturers. The modules were really interesting and relevant to what I was already doing but also gave me an idea on what I would like to do next. The program felt a good combination of topics relevant to continue a career in industry or academia.
What were the best things about studying in your department?
The support from academics and technical staff, the experimental facilities and resources and the learning environment.
What did you like most about the City of Sheffield?
It has a great environment, it has something to do at all times, and is extremely easy to navigate. The proximity to the Peak District and to all the outdoor activities involved (hiking, climbing, etc.) is a huge plus.
My time in Sheffield exceeded my expectations! I enjoy the fact that the city is very welcoming and diverse, the people are amazing, and the walkable distances make it a very enjoyable experience.
Were you in any student societies? What did you enjoy most about these activities?
Latin American Society and PGR society. I love that it is a great way to meet new friends and do wholesome and fun activities.
What were the deciding contributors to deciding you want to do a PhD and continue in academia? Vs going back into industry?
I was already interested in doing a PhD but wanted to first have a taste into what research was, which my MSc helped me gain by being able to take more specialist courses in water engineering, and undertaking a research project as part of the programme. I especially loved the sustainable systems and green infrastructure modules.
What I enjoy the most about research is coming up with novel research questions, planning and budgeting a research project, and learning how to use different equipment, data analysis and modelling tools. This solidified my choice to remain in research.
The university is very well equipped and people are very supportive. Exploring different questions and learning everyday is what motivates me to stay in research and pursue an academic career. I felt industry to be a bit restrictive for exploring novel questions. However, I feel the formation the university has provided me with, is ideal to pursue a Research & Development career.
What did you do for your PhD?
My PhD was primarily theoretical and fundamental but had practical motivation to it. Its topic was on Environmental fluid mechanics, specifically, pollutant transport in emergent vegetation systems.
A good way of describing it is that emerging vegetation exists in natural systems like wetlands, estuaries and riverbanks. They are very important because they regulate different natural processes. From wastewater treatment and plant nutrient intake to ecosystem preservation and flood management. The project takes that as a general idea and proposes a range of experiments to study the ways that a pollutant travels and disperses within a vegetated system.
We have an artificial system that uses plastic cylinders to represent vegetation, and measure velocity and concentration fields to explore the fundamental physics dominating contaminant transport and translating that into tools that practitioners can use to solve problems. Such solutions range from the design of wetlands for water treatment or other parameters people need to use when designing flood banks or for river restoration purposes.
Is your current role still connected to your PhD project or are you exploring something different
Yes, it is a continuation of the same experimental plan, using additional experimental tools to measure more physical quantities. Also, my current role involves the study of contaminant transport in other systems, such as accelerating flow in pipes.
How do you see your career developing in the next few years?
The thing with research is that you have to do a variety of postdoctoral roles before you can move into teaching or higher positions in academia. My goal is to start moving towards presenting, fellowship applications, dipping my toes into the water of getting funding for original research ideas. I mainly want to work towards a fellowship. Although the idea of going back to industry is not entirely discarded.
If you could give advice to current students who are starting to think about their future career, what would you tell them?
Choosing the right mentors/supervisors is fundamental. A supportive, engaged and friendly supervisor goes a long way, in fact, a longer way than a big name that offers very little support. University rankings on their own (even though Uni of Sheffield is very well ranked) is not the end-all-be-all of choosing a place to study. Additional activities and skills learnt during your degree make a bigger difference than the grades. Choose a place that has different options to offer, a good learning environment, and a diversity of topics to study.
Water Engineering MSc
Protecting and improving our water resources and protecting people from flooding and droughts are some of the most significant engineering challenges we face today. This course gives you the fundamental knowledge and experience for a career in water engineering, including skills in environmental enhancement and protection.
Our league table rankings
Top 100 Civil & Structural Engineering department in the world and 9th in the UK according to the QS World University rankings by subject (2023).
8th in the UK according to the Complete University Guide (2023).
10th in the UK according to the Times University League Table (2023).
International Merit Scholarships
We offer a generous package of financial support for international students including 75 undergraduate scholarships worth £10,000 towards the annual tuition fee and 125 postgraduate taught scholarships worth £5,000 towards the tuition fee. Applications are now open for existing offer holders.