Sunday, March 18, 2012

Contents of my job

The idea I used to have of a PhD student, is of someone who spends endless hours behind his computer, focused on one single task. The reality turned out to be rather different for me: hardly ever I get to spend a whole day on one single task, and typically I am juggling several tasks and trying to keep a bunch of projects on the rails.
Recently, I wrote a brief description of what the contents of my job are all about, so I wanted to share it here on the blog as well:

- Experimental research on slabs: continuously supported slabs of 2,5m x 5m x 0,3m. In total 38 specimens were cast and tested up to failure, and as of now, I did 160 experiments (and, along the road, something like a 2000 concrete cubes were tested to determine the cube compressive strength and the splitting tensile strength of the concrete at different points in time).
- Education:  I just had my first lecture last week (in Concrete Structures II), I am teaching assistant for prestressed concrete and I supervise MSc thesis students.
- Calculate: I predict the capacity based on the current design codes, I check the forces with linear finite element calculations (most MSc thesis students work with non-linear finite element calculations - and we can learn a lot from that, so that might be something I will be spending some time on in the near future, provided that I can find some time), and monte carlo simulations to better assess the probability of failure.
- Case studies: some extra smaller tasks on existing bridges, as well as developing tools for the Ministry to quickly assess a large amount of the existing bridges. That assessment is an "OK" or a "needs more complicated calculations".
- The science part: writing papers, making posters, do some little tasks for committees here and there, get in touch with other researchers, go to conferences


  1. Hey Eva,
    Been following your blog for a while now, and find it interesting to follow the day-to-day proceedings of someone undertaking a PhD in structural engineering.

    For my MSc Thesis I solely focused on the LTB strength of plate girders. After reading your above description, and remembering running through my calculations for shrinkage and creep, and the wealth of various parameters in the BS EN 1992-1 table for concrete grades reminded me how much easier steel is! (fy=355N/mm2, E=210000N/mm^2 is all I really needed to know!). While I also used nonlinear analysis, my main focus was geometric nonlinearity, and I used a very simple strain-hardening elasto-plastic approach for material nonlinearity. You no doubt use some very complex material models in your analysis, and at least my point of view can definitely admire the enormous complexity of researchers whose primary focus is concrete.

    Best of luck with the remainder of your PhD,


  2. Thank you, Pete :)

    Indeed, one of the observations we make together with the MSc students who model my experiments in their thesis, is that their results depend very much on several assumptions they make for the material modeling. We can't measure all parameters (for example, the fracture energy is an important parameter, but different codes will give you different approaches on how to estimate this). Time-dependent effects such as creep and shrinkage also leave a lot of room for assumptions an interpretations...

  3. yep, you're quite right. i'm overwhelmed with how little i actually get to do that one continuous task i thought i'll be doing.