Stephanie G Zihms

Multi-disciplinary Geoscientist & Geological Engineer

About me

My career so far has been very multi-disciplinary and I enjoy working with researchers from different fields. I have a BSc Hon in Earth Sciences from University of Glasgow and a PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering from University of Strathclyde. Between these two degrees I worked as a geologist for a geotechnical contractor. This was a great way to get some hands-on experience through site work. In my second year with the company I started a MSc in Geotechnical Engineering part-time, as I wanted to continue my education and specialise more towards this field. However, I didn’t enjoy feeling torn between work and studying and looked into going back to university full-time. At the same time the economic downturn affected the company I was working for and I was made redundant in 2009. This turned out to be quite good for me because it forced me to look properly at what I wanted to do with my career and if geotechnical engineering and industry really was the place for me.

When I found a PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde I was very excited about staying in the field of geotechnics as well as going back to university and doing research – and I haven’t looked back since. My PhD looked at the impact of very high temperatures (up to 1200°C) on soils and their behaviour after exposure to these temperatures. This research was linked to a new remediation technique used for coal tar contaminated soils. I liked the applied approach and that I was working on something slightly related to my undergraduate degree. I managed to investigate the mineralogy of silica sand with exposure to different temperatures with thin sections and some other mineralogical techniques. In addition to the mechanical behaviour – how does the soil behave under load – I also investigated effects on water moving through soil after exposure to elevated temperatures. This helped to understand if groundwater or rainwater would move through these soil differently. I designed different pieces of equipment and experimental set-up – which was great fun and I really enjoyed this aspect of my PhD.

With my funding finished and working part-time to support the writing up phase of my PhD I started to look for postdocs and research positions in the UK as well as other European countries. The first thing that became obvious was that a lot of positions required modelling skills and very few looked for experimental researchers. Eventually I found a research post with the British Geological Survey and their Radioactive Waste Team based in Nottingham. The post suited my skills and was based in a world-leading laboratory. I applied and was offered the position. I started in September 2013 – 5 weeks after submitting my thesis and 3 weeks before my viva. The research focus was on temperature effects on bentonite and its buffer characteristics for geological disposal of radioactive waste. I enjoyed the lab work, the approach of BGS to be very open about their research and sharing information with the public. This was also when I got really involved in outreach activities, since this a great way to share research with a lot of different people. However, due to a couple of different factors I decided to leave BGS in December 2014 and moved back to Scotland. I didn’t have anything lined up when I handed in my notice that November but I was optimistic that I would find something for January.

Here I was again at another cross-roads deciding what I wanted to do and not quite sure what path to take next. I decided to look for some short-term posts to tie me over until I would find the answer. So I accepted a 4 months postdoc at Heriot-Watt University looking at CO2 bubble behaviour in flow conditions. Designing, building and running an experiment in 4 months is crazy but I was up to the challenge. Somehow I did manage to do it and I (hopefully) get a paper out of it too. Anyway, about 3 weeks into the postdoc I saw another postdoc advertised at Heriot-Watt looking at geomechanics of carbonate rocks. This sounded like something interesting, especially since it was an experimental approach and working with real rocks. After enquiring a bit more about the research and the post itself I applied for it and was offered the post. Until April 2018 I am looking at the mechanical behaviour of carbonate rocks and how it is similar or different to clastic rocks.

Mini-CV

MAY 2015  PDRA in Geomechanics Institute of Petroleum Engineering Heriot Watt University

JAN 2015 – APR 2015  PDRA in CO2 bubble behaviour Institute of Mechanical, Process & Energy Engineering heriot Watt University

SEP 2013 – DEC 2014  Fluid Processes Geoscientist in Temperature effects on Bentonite buffer performance at British Geological Survey

OCT 2009 – SEP 2013  PhD Smouldering and Thermal Remediation Effects on Properties and Behaviour of Porous Media Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering University of Strathclyde

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