Riccardo Briganti

Riccardo is a Senior Research Fellow at Nottingham University.

"Academia offers a lot of mobility – it is a global market. You have to move around as much as possible..."

"I love engineering and applied mathematics, so I decided to be a civil engineer. Civil engineering is a very expandable career and you can add your own contribution. I specifically like the more creative side dealing with the forces of nature rather than the industrial aspects. I obtained the Scientific Lyceum Diploma at Liceo Scientifico Statale Nomentano, Rome in 1994. This was followed by a Master Degree in Civil Engineering at Università degli Studi ‘La Sapienza’, Rome and a PhD at the Università degli Studi Roma Tre.

"I decided to do the PhD as I always had an inclination towards academia and study. I didn’t want to go into consultancy at the time – I wanted an intellectual challenge. I always thought an academic career was a possibility. Originally I couldn’t get funding for my PhD, but then I won funding which was part of a European project – designing coastal defences that could be environmentally friendly.

"I then won another European project, but it wasn’t challenging enough. I wanted to work with specific individuals who specialised in modelling – these were all in the USA. There were limited opportunities in Italy for an academic career so I decided to apply to the USA to see how marketable I was. I wanted the challenge! It was easy to find opportunities. I wrote a paper which was reviewed and published. The paper was recommended to a leading expert by my professor who then put me in touch with him. I was offered a visiting post-doctoral position in the USA and worked at the University of South Alabama followed by the University of Louisiana. It is important to choose the right supervisor for your studies, especially for when you are looking for other opportunities – you need to assess their network and what they can offer you.

"I wanted to get involved in lots of interesting research areas – then the position at Nottingham University came up. The UK system offers more support and development – you are less left to your own devices. The system rewards those who are focused. A negative impact on my career to date has been not having a degree from the host country, i.e. a US or UK degree. But, on the positive side, I have a solid theoretical background and I am flexible, and could find jobs in lots of different areas. There were many opportunities as I had a range of knowledge, but this is also a drawback – you need to promote yourself as an expert.

"I started planning my career seriously when I was in the US. I decided to use all opportunities, training and courses that were available. I worked on my communication skills and publishing, and drew as much from the university as was available. Going to the States and the UK provided a turning point for my career, as working in different countries extends opportunities. Academia offers a lot of mobility – it is a global market. You have to move around as much as possible.

"I have developed my career through networking and exploring other work through consultancy opportunities – this provides new skills and knowledge, which is a useful back up. If you are only research-focused, it is hard to get back into industry. The most influential people who have helped me have been my supervisors, both for my PhD and here in the UK. They need to be proactive in helping you find your next post, and their networks are very important. When I came to Nottingham I thought I was ready to be a lecturer, but I was not successful – so I needed to reassess. I had a long contract, so I decided I would use that time to develop the skills I needed, and get lots of publications to enhance myself.

"I think luck played a part in my career up to the post-doctoral level, but not since then. The biggest risk I took was to go for an EPSRC fellowship. As I decided to pursue this, I put a job offer with NASA on hold, and decided not to follow other job opportunities that I would have had a good shot at. It has been a balancing act, but I put all my energies into the fellowship. I am not happy taking chances – I want security more than anything, and this includes a decent income and staying in one place. But you have to balance security with being global. You have to take chances no matter what. Flexibility is key, and not feeling rejected is important – not being successful doesn’t mean you are not good at what you do.

"Career for me indicates a path to an objective, a series of events and progression to becoming a professor, which leads to independence in research."