By Emily Jennings, CDT Manager at UCL
Dr Dimitriou is a Lecturer in Digital Engineering at Loughborough University, and teaches Building Energy Modelling to ERBE students at Loughborough and UCL. Vanda previously worked as a Senior Consultant, acting as project manager for energy data mapping projects, focusing on fuel poverty, and retrofitting.
I spoke to Vanda about her time at Loughborough University, both as a student and academic, and, also, outside of academia as a consultant.
I asked Vanda about her Building Energy Modelling module, as I had heard this was a particularly male dominated subject; Vanda assured me that this was not the case for her – she had actually taken the module over from another female. This lends itself to the idea that the gender balance in the construction industry is becoming more equal, let’s hope this is the shape of things to come!
What did you take with you from your time at Loughborough University into your career/post-PhD life?
For me, it has been a very gradual route to my role today. I moved from academia to a career outside of academia in consultancy for 18 months, and then I came back to work at Loughborough University. I started as an MSc student at LU, and during that time I began to develop my understanding of low carbon principles. I then moved to my PhD, during which I was really happy with my supervisors, who were extremely supportive. The University provided me with lots of opportunities; I was able to go to multiple conferences, which was great to be exposed to that sort of dissemination of information from the beginning of my PhD. I also got to do some training through a summer school which was an international programme delivered by DTU, Denmark to people all over the world. The understanding I gained from this led to me using a similar technique for my PhD. I would encourage anyone to look out for these sorts of training opportunities; I flag similar opportunities to my own students when they arise. Hopefully, with the end of the pandemic, these learning opportunities can become more frequent again. There was an opportunity that I was also able to take up at LU, called Rotor, which helps current doctoral researchers develop their understanding for teaching and, also, get a form of qualification from the Higher Education Academy; you don’t become a full Fellow, but an Associate Fellow for the Academy. I found this to be a really good start for people who wanted to follow a career in academic teaching.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced moving from a PhD into a job/career?
The biggest challenge was moving from a PhD to a career outside of higher education; moving back to the University felt more seamless when it happened. Moving from my work as a research associate to consultancy, the challenge was fitting into a different kind of thought process and way of working, and ultimately a different culture. In terms of the work you are doing, the pace and objectives are both different in a consultancy setting compared to a university one. The close teamwork I experienced in my career outside of LU was one of the best parts; although we are still a team here at LU, I worked more closely with colleagues on a daily basis in my time as a consultant. One of the driving factors, for me, going back to work as an academic, was that I wanted to research more freely, with less time constraints; in consultancy you are there to deliver outputs for a client within a given time frame, and not necessarily explore your own research interests.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently (or what could your Institution do differently/more of) to help you become better-equipped and ready for life after your PhD?
I think the first thing would be to realise that the PhD is, in itself, a process; you go back and forth with your ideas until they are very well-defined. It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing what you ‘should’ be doing, or like you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes, and that’s to be expected – you get to figure that out through a methodology. I think if I were to have my time again, I would like to understand that a bit more, and allow myself to feel this way and know that it is normal. The other thing would be to chase more opportunities for training; not necessarily for teaching – universities are offering an abundance of different resources and have a lot of people with expertise in different backgrounds who are really keen and happy to engage in discussions, if that might help someone. I’d encourage any PhD student to make the most of these opportunities.
What was your experience of EDI within your Institution and how does it compare to your experience after moving on from your PhD?
I appreciate EDI goes much further than gender, but in terms of gender balance and equality I personally never felt any different for being female; I felt that I had the support that I needed and the same opportunities as my peers. I remember that I felt the University provided a very welcoming environment, and I still feel like that hasn’t changed. I realise that there is a more structured approach to EDI now, and it’s nice to know that more is happening to encourage and promote diversity. I was very lucky to have strong female role models in my career so far. What I would really like to see more of is women encouraged and supported to pursue higher profile positions, both within the University and outside, in the industry. For myself personally, I have recently become a mum and I still feel very well supported by my colleagues, in the way that they approached my return to work and continue to highlight new opportunities to me. I certainly feel busier than I was before!