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Sakthy Selvakumaran

Sakthy Selvakumaran

Chartered Civil Engineer doing PHD, University of Cambridge

Expertise

Design, Structural

Location

United Kingdom
Career highlights

Doing a PhD at Cambridge University on new technologies that could improve resilience of urban infrastructure

Designing new structures for Crossrail

QUEST scholar

A day in my life

Is varied! Sometimes it’s out in the field doing inspections and collecting data, other times I’m dreaming up designs and doing the calculations to make it work. Sometimes I’m in front of my computer crunching structural models and other times it’s satellite radar data.

Sometimes I’m in meetings with asset owners and other construction professionals and other times I’m presenting my work on large stages. Sometimes I’m in the UK and other times I’m working on projects and case studies across the world.

It’s difficult to pin down a ‘typical’ day.

I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also a Trustee for the charity EcoSwell UK and have been involved in various roles in Engineers Without Borders UK. I’m strongly passionate about training and education of engineering skills in developing countries. Local people know what’s appropriate for their communities, and everyone should have the chance to gain the skills to become an engineer and shape their environment.

I also play the flute and I enjoy making art (both as hobbies).

My career inspiration

My father. His career showed me the direct link between engineering, humanitarian development and an international career.

He studied civil engineering and became a water and wastewater engineer, working in state and private sectors in developed and developing contexts across the globe in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Canada, Ireland, and the UK.

As a young child, the idea of wastewater and sewage treatment seemed pretty unpleasant. "My dad works in the treatment of toilet water" wasn't exactly something you told other kids with pride.

It was only once I was older that I realised the direct effects such a career could have. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports (GLAAS 2012) that around 1.1 billion people globally don't have access to improved water supply sources and 2.4 billion people don't have access to any type of improved sanitation facility. Every year, about 2 million people die from diarrhoeal diseases; most of them are children less than five years of age.

I realised that I could also have a profound impact through engineering in addressing the wider issues that, left unattended, result in the need for medical treatment. There’s scope to prevent – rather than treating – disease through basic infrastructure.

what’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

That there are so many branches of civil engineering, and that the path to solving problems doesn’t rest in one little box.

There’s a great opportunity to learn and adopt new technologies to change the way that we design, build and maintain our built environment.

I had no idea that I’d work as a designer, on sites, and now end up working with the space sector, all working on the same problem with different skills and angles.

which civil engineering myth(s) you would like to bust?

The usual hard hats and high vis stereotype.

Sometimes it’s fun to put the kit on and be on site, and some people love to make a career directly on site, but there are so many other sides for those who aren’t as keen on working in the mud!

what about being a civil engineer inspires you?

Knowing that what I do as a civil engineer makes a tangible and significant impact on society.  

would you recommend a career in civil engineering?

Civil engineering has the opportunity to be many kinds of career, suited to many different kinds of people. At its root, it’s a career that can support working on global challenges, but also have an impact on day-to-day lives.

It’s creative, whether it’s bringing a drawing on paper to life, to working out how to thread a tunnel through the congested ground below the feet of Londoners, to working out how to lift 100 tonnes of steelwork and install a bridge over a live railway to how to provide access to water and electricity in a geography that lacks both resources and has scarce resource.  

Education

I went to high school in Sheffield, completing my GCSEs and A Levels (Physics, Chemistry, Math and Further Math A Level, Biology to AS Level and Art on the side for fun because of a kind teacher who knew I loved making art).

Studied General Engineering, later specialising in Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Cambridge (BA, MEng)

Worked in industry and took my professionalChartership qualification (CEng MICE).

Returned to University of Cambridge for a PhD.

Hobbies

I love meeting people and learning languages (I grew up speaking Tamil (relearning again now), speak English and Spanish, and have started learning German).

I developed and run the Youth Scheme ‘Construkt’ with Paul and Rommell from Serious About Youth, which was created with support from the ICE.

It supports a wide range of young people (in school but also those not in training, education or employment) from underrepresented groups to get experience in civil engineering and access to industry professionals.