Skip to content
Dr Rebecca Wade

Dr Rebecca Wade

Senior lecturer in environmental science, Abertay University


Environmental Management, Water


My highlights

Making the WES Top 50 Women in Engineering 2024 list

Travelling to Antarctica in November 2023 with 100 women from all over the world

Being an ICE award-winning STEM ambassador (Scotland 2021 and UK 2022)

A day in my life

My days are varied.

I work indoors, outdoors, near home and in far-flung locations.

I can often be found sitting at a computer, because we can do so much from our desks these days (calls, meetings, e-mails, administrative tasks, marking student work, planning projects, writing funding proposals, research, etc).

I love teaching and I particularly enjoy taking my students on fieldtrips, from whistle-stop tours of whole river catchments, to full days working on a single stretch of restored stream.

Wherever I am, you will always find me drawing subject areas together, linking engineering and environment.

I try to inspire the next generation of engineers to place sustainability at the heart of what they do.

My evenings are often busy too.

I’m a dedicated STEM ambassador. Since returning from Antarctica in 2023 I’ve had lots of requests to speak about my experience, to share what I learned and saw there.

One profession alone can't address the complex challenges we face in terms of adapting to climate impacts and nature loss, while maintaining thriving communities.

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

I was first inspired to engage more with civil engineers when I was working on river restoration projects in the USA from 1999-2002.

I became aware of the extensive changes to rivers and catchment hydrology that civil engineers had undertaken over many decades, hundreds of years even, but that trajectory was changing.

At that time there was an increasing recognition of the need to restore and rehabilitate habitats and ecosystems and take a more sustainable approach to water management.

It was the perfect time to start working closely with engineers. Together we could move forward with more sustainable and nature-based engineering solutions.

For more than 20 years, at Abertay University, I’ve been working closely with civil and environmental engineers, mostly on urban water management projects, by working together we get better outcomes.

We asked Rebecca

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because…

It’s one of the most effective ways you can help create a more sustainable future.

Civil engineers design, build, operate and maintain our built environment and our infrastructure.

They play an essential role in transitioning to a more sustainable future and in adapting to the climate change impacts that are already happening.

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…

I’m not a civil engineer by training, but I work closely with engineers.

I’m an allied professional. My expertise is in nature-based solutions, delivering projects with multiple benefits for people and planet, which also deliver engineering and infrastructure outcomes.

I strongly believe that collaboration is key to delivering great projects.

One profession alone can’t address the complex challenges we face in terms of adapting to climate impacts and nature loss, while maintaining thriving communities.

I’m also a daughter, a mum, a wife, an aunty, a friend and an ally.

I enjoy cold water swimming and singing (both with wonderful groups of women).

I cycle commute and enjoy recreational cycling and hillwalking with friends and family.

And I take lots of photographs!

What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?

A Star Wars Lego model – the Millennium Falcon. It was a whole family activity.

I can’t remember how long it took us, but it was great fun and very satisfying to complete it.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

The possibility of creating a positive change in the world.

That change might be supporting or inspiring one individual or bringing together an international network of professionals with big ambitions.

What are you doing to help address climate change?

Almost everything I do is focused on addressing climate change.

ICE Scotland named me as one of their Invisible Superheroes in 2019. I’m Eco-crusader, “inspiring the next generation of civil engineers to work with nature for a more sustainable future”.

My teaching, outreach and research have a central focus on addressing climate change.

In 2021, I coordinated and contributed to four live public webinars for the ICE, hosted by ICE Scotland, during 2021.

In November 2021, I coordinated and led Abertay’s official observer delegation to COP26 – ensuring that students had the same opportunities as staff to take part and attend.

One civil engineering student said that the experience had changed her mind from leaving civils education to sticking with it, as she could see how it could make a difference in the world.

I contributed to COP26 ‘Face the facts’ series of short ‘meet the experts’ interviews for the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Science Advisory Council and the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society.

I worked with Dundee Science Centre to deliver COP26 live events in Dundee.

How has your work as an engineer enhanced the lives of people?

My research work, teaching, public STEM communication and collaborations with communities and engineering professional bodies focus on two key strands:

  1. The potential for infrastructure to deliver ecosystem services (using nature-based solutions), including:

    • decreased flooding
    • increased biodiversity
    • improved water quality
    • and enhanced community wellbeing

    This work improves the lives of people directly, enhancing their local environments, and reducing their climate vulnerability by creatively making space for people, water and nature.

    Improving the quality and safety of local environments can be particularly important in enhancing the lives of women and girls.

  2. Supporting and promoting representation and equality for women in STEM

    This is really important to me.

    I’ve worked on gender equality in my organisation, in my outreach activities, with the ICE and the Women’s Engineering Society, and through my mentoring work.

    I know from their feedback that my hard work in this area has helped women and girls to realise their potential and to have confidence in their abilities.

How has being a member helped your career? 

My Associate Membership of ICE (AMICE) has helped me in lots of ways.

It has enhanced the recognition of my work by my peers and within professional circles.

It has enabled me to work closely with ICE regional and national groups to deliver CPD and raise awareness of the role of civil engineers in addressing climate change.

Rebecca's career path

My background is in geography and environmental science.

I have formal qualifications (MA and PhD) in these subject areas.

For my whole career I’ve worked across disciplines, bringing knowledge and expertise together.

For more than 25 years I’ve worked directly with engineers, in academia and in industry, to help deliver sustainable solutions with multiple benefits whenever we can.

Major projects

  • SUDSnet: a community of practice for everyone working in sustainable drainage. 
  • ISSUES: this project recognised the need to interact across disciplines and sectors, and to co-fund projects. This is essential to deliver integrated multi-functional urban blue and green infrastructure. 
  • E2Stormed: this project aimed to improve water management and energy efficiency in the urban water cycle and in buildings by promoting the use of innovative storm water solutions such as sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) in six Mediterranean cities.
  • ADEPT: developing the ecosystem approach to drive positive urban transformations in the context of intersecting vulnerabilities. This project, conducted in collaboration with Brazilian researchers was focussed on a major urban zoning project in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. 
  • Water Resilient Dundee: this partnership aims to jointly plan and sustainably manage water in Dundee to help the city respond to climate change now and for future generations. 

Another highlight was travelling to Antarctica in November 2023 with 100 women from all over the world, as a selected participant on the Homeward Bound leadership programme for women with a STEMM background.