Building the Bridge to return to research: Dr Tahreer Fayyad
Historically, career deviations have marked a roadblock in research due to the unnecessary devastating consequences when taking a break. This article explores how Dr Tahreer Fayyad found her place in the research community again, whilst also growing personally. Tahreer’s Fellowship is hosted at Queen’s University Belfast, co-sponsored by EPSRC and the Royal Society, focusing on future proofing our civil engineering infrastructure.
Tahreer built up more than fifteen years of technical, managerial, and academic experience in civil engineering and project management. Tahreer successfully completed a PhD in Structural Engineering from the University of Cambridge in 2016.
“Upon completing my PhD, I took the difficult decision to put my research future on hold to move home to Palestine for the sake of my parents, raising my young children and caring for my extended family. I spent three years there and then moved with my family to Northern Ireland in 2019. I had a total of six years break from research.”
Sadly, the career break hampered Tahreer’s perceived competitiveness to applying for funding and research positions. She felt that she needed support in reconnecting with the research community and that’s where her Daphne Jackson Fellowship came in…
“My Fellowship was a pivotal chapter in my professional journey and a critical step for me. It supported me in getting back into research after a devastating break. This opportunity has not just helped me improve my professional abilities but also has played a significant role in my personal development. With the Fellowship, my confidence got a big boost. Achieving Chartered Engineer status right at the start was a proud moment that made me feel more credible in my field.
When the Daphne Jackson Trust believed in me and awarded me the Fellowship, this strengthened my confidence in my own abilities and judgment and opened up a vast array of opportunities, paving numerous pathways for my development and advancement.”
The value of Tahreer’s Research
Due to finish in 2025 Tahreer’s Fellowship project is entitled: Drive-by monitoring (DriMon) towards network level intelligent infrastructure. In this project, Tahreer is using sensors to assess the structural integrity of concrete, with the Loughbrickland Bridge in NI being used as a field test site.
“My research will advance sustainable cities and communities by providing a tool that will help make infrastructures last longer, saving resources. It also has the potential to achieve network level resilience in our civil infrastructure by enabling us to anticipate, adapt and respond to changes.”
Future proofing our civil engineering infrastructure, much of which was built over 50 years ago, is a financially challenging strategic requirement for UK resilience. The projected spend to address deficient UK civil engineering infrastructure in the next decade is £600B and will intensify in our drive towards a net-zero carbon agenda, greater sustainability, durability, and efficiency. This innovative research will create technology that can deliver interconnected and automated bridge safety ratings through Dri-Mon for informed and strategic decision making by infrastructure stakeholders.
Tahreer candidly acknowledges the challenges associated with returning to research after a career break:
“My h-index and citation scores would not be comparable to researchers who have had no career breaks. They are still not comparable to full-time researchers and yet it is still a widely used metric for global rankings. I am working hard to publish quality journal papers and targeting the top journals in my field to maximise my research profile.”
Despite the prevailing attitude in academia, which often discourages interruptions or deviations from the traditional career path, Tahreer remains committed to continuing her vital research, whilst highly achieving along the way.
What advice would you give to others struggling to re-enter their research career?
“If you are struggling with the consequences of a break from your research career and find it challenging to return to research, know that you are not alone. Seek support from the Daphne Jackson Trust, it is established to assist individuals like us!
Should you manage to get a Fellowship, make sure to take full advantage of all the opportunities that become available to you; they are many.”
Tahreer’s Fellowship experience has brought unexpected opportunities, broadening her horizons beyond her own research project.
Notably, “I was invited to present a recent conference paper at SHMII-12 which is the official conference of ISHMII. Further to this I was encouraged to submit a journal paper and I am also now a member of ISHMII which is the global organisation for SHM (Structural Health Monitoring).”
Tahreer’s journey is a reminder to those who took a career break, and to all in industry, that researcher returners are vital in shaping our sustainable future. Flexible working, and a supportive environment allows researchers to continue to make meaningful contributions to society. A break from research shouldn’t mark the end. The Daphne Jackson Trust, along with the Royal Society and EPSRC are proud to act as the bridge back to research. Thank you for sharing your journey Tahreer.
Do you know someone on a career break from research? Please share what the Daphne Jackson Trust do, and our current opportunities with them. Thank you.
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