Research Studentship in Monitoring of Underground Construction Processes

3.5 year DPhil studentship, available at Oxford University from October 2018 (subject to eligibility)
The successful applicant will work on a research project funded through the Royal Academy of Engineering, alongside industry partners and the geotechnical research group at Oxford University (

Research Area
Underground construction processes have developed significantly in recent years and are tightly controlled in terms of programme and cost. A number of key uncertainties remain, however, with the structural interaction with the ground (e.g. how soil contact stresses are exerted on underground structures) being one of the most important. Although predictive capabilities have improved significantly in recent years, including through finite element calculations, approaches for predicting soil-structure contact stresses and mobilization displacements are still remarkably poor. 

This project will develop intelligent, automated methods for instrumenting, measuring and monitoring soil-structure interaction, to provide real-time feedback to site engineers and to develop new design methods for underground construction processes. Fibre optic sensors are well-suited to the harsh conditions associated with underground construction, have excellent resolution and are immune to electromagnetic interference. Novel instruments employing fibre-bragg-grating sensors will be developed to measure soil-structure normal and frictional contact stresses in the field. These monitoring systems will be deployed on upcoming high-profile construction projects alongside industry partners. The development of frictional contact stresses is particularly critical for tunnelling and construction of large-diameter caissons. This is the focus of the research - the methods develop could, however, be easily applied to other problems. The project will be supervised by Dr Brian Sheil.

Award Value
The studentship covers University/College fees at the level set for UK students plus a stipend (tax-free maintenance grant) of £14,777 p.a.

This studentship is available to Home qualified students only.

Candidate Requirements
Applicants will be judged according to how well they meet the following criteria:

  • A good first honours degree (first or upper second) in engineering, physics or computer science;
  • Experience in designing, developing and/or using instrumentation (e.g. demonstrated by undergraduate project work or industry experience);
  • Good written and spoken communication skills in English;
  • Evidence of high self-motivation and good organisational skills to meet demanding deadlines on site;
  • Excellent record of academic and/or professional achievement


The following are desirable but not essential:

  • Specialist skills such as programming for data acquisition (e.g. LabView, Matlab, Python) or finite element software;
  • Appreciation of and demonstrable interest in civil engineering construction operations and design methods;
  • Experience and/or knowledge of fibre optic strain sensing;
  • Interpersonal skills necessary to liaise with construction site personnel.

Application Procedure
To apply for this studentship, candidates should send the following documents to

  • Covering Letter: This should describe why you are suitable for this project, what you hope to achieve from the DPhil as well as your longer term ambitions.
  • CV including transcripts/records of marks from University level courses.
  • Contact details for two referees, at least one of which must be academic.

NOTE: Candidates are expected to meet the graduate admissions criteria available at and a full graduate application must be made at the same time as applying for this studentship. Your studentship application will not be considered until you have submitted a graduate application (use course-code RD_EN1). Further details about making a graduate application are available at

Please quote ENGIN18_BS in all correspondence and in your graduate application.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Brian Sheil, email: Note that applications sent directly to this email address will not be accepted.

Application deadline: As soon as a suitable applicant is found.