"I studied for a PhD in Soil Mechanics in the Department of Civil Engineering at Imperial College, London. I investigated the shrinking and swelling behaviour of clays, which has direct relevance to industry.
"Currently I am the product manager for Thomas Telford Training, the knowledge arm of the Institution of Civil Engineers. TTT deliver short professional training across the construction industry, and I carry the responsibility for the design and development of all technical training we deliver. I also have input across TTT’s knowledge streams, which include book and journal publications.
"I had a meandering career path – I left school at 16 for a start. I wanted to do something practical, so undertook a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. I moved into civil engineering and then into a large consulting practice, where a latent academic ability began to emerge. I studied on a day release basis for a HNC followed by a degree in civil engineering – not an easy route. I graduated top of my class as the recession began to bite. Worried about being made redundant, I started an MSc at Imperial College. I remained at Imperial for about 12 years, during which time I completed an MSc and a doctorate, undertook postdoctoral research, held a part-time lectureship, and set up a spin-out company.
"It would have been quite easy to remain in academia, as I had postdoctoral research funding and opportunities for academic appointments. However, I became involved in a research project with real value to industry – to develop instrumentation to investigate the stability of the earth embankments that the London Underground trains run on above ground. In addition to research, the technology produced an income stream into the university. The natural progression was to set up a spin-out company. This was a challenging project in its own right. At first we rented space at Imperial, so the move away as well as the decision-making process was gradual.
"Whilst I genuinely liked my research field, it was not sufficient to sustain my ambitions in the long term. The cycle repeated five years later when I sold my share in the company to my business partner and moved to Thomas Telford Training.
"I realised that I am a project person so, when both projects (my doctorate and the spin-out company) reached a conclusion, I knew I needed to look for a new challenge.
"The benefit of holding a doctorate depends on the circles in which I operate. The demonstrable academic ability is a door opener in business. Those who have not reached your academic level respect you for what you have done, and those who have see you as an equal – of which there are only few operating in your industry. During a doctorate you become a proven subject expert within a few years. That is some demonstration of ability. You will have a toolbox of transferable skills to use throughout your career. The professional and personal friendships I made by being part of a bright, driven and enthusiastic group of international researchers have proved to be very valuable.
"Ultimately you develop and hone a thorough, enquiring and penetrating mind, and match it with a desire for delivering the best you can – and industry needs and welcomes that."