My name is Chiara Modenese and I am about to complete a DPhil in Engineering Science at Oxford University. I hold a BSc in Civil Engineering and an MSc in Structural Engineering, both obtained from the University of Padua, Italy.
I decided to study Engineering because I had good math skills and a strong interest in technology. I chose to specialise in Civil Engineering because it is one of the most established engineering disciplines and its application can be readily appreciated in the outside world (just think about the way bridges, roads and buildings affect our day-to-day activities).
My first research experience was spent while I was preparing my Master thesis, where I used numerical methods to investigate the behaviour of very tall buildings subjected to horizontal loads such as wind or seismic forces. I was eager to learn more about the science behind engineering and so I decided to apply for a DPhil at Oxford University. In October 2009 I joined the Civil Engineering Research Group as a DPhil student. Since then my research topic has focused on the numerical modelling of soils under various environmental conditions, with particular application to the lunar soil (the soil layer covering the Moon).
I have found the research environment of the Civil Engineering Group extremely helpful. The loneliness of the time spent reading papers and doing the research has been compensated by the vivid exchange of information and the encouragement given by other post-graduate students in the lab. The interdisciplinary character of the Engineering Department has been a source of ideas through the attendance of research seminars and lectures delivered by visiting professors. Regular meetings with my supervisors have also made this experience both challenging and rewarding.
As a post-graduate student, I had the opportunity to enjoy the collegiate life as a member of St Anne’s College. I was also awarded a St Anne’s post-graduate scholarship which helped funding my DPhil. During my studies at Oxford, I have been very fortunate to work as a College Lecture teaching first and second year engineering students at St Anne’s. Thanks to this experience I fostered my communication and presentation skills, which are very employable skills both within and outside academia.
The most exciting moment of my DPhil was the award as a runner-up in the “Best Student Paper Competition” at the Earth&Space 2012 conference in LA (California, USA). The funding for attending the event was provided by the Engineering Department, which encourages DPhil students to attend at least one big conference in their field of study. I now realise that this award will not only be important for my future career but it is also an important recognition of my work as an Oxford research student.
Finally, I would like to say that being a DPhil student at Oxford University has not only increased my engineering knowledge but it has also been an exceptional life experience, through the technical challenges, the friendship of many colleagues, and the dedicated passion for science and research of the academic staff.