My career: Professor of Civil Engineering Aoife Ahern | Jobs Vox


In college, I studied … I have studied engineering. I studied at Trinity College Dublin, and I majored in Civil Engineering. After that, I went to University College London to pursue a PhD in Transportation Engineering. I just turned 21 a month before I moved to London and I initially found it a bit rough – especially considering it was the early 2000s. At the time, London seemed a much bigger and more frenetic place than Dublin, which still felt like a very small town at the time, and did not have the multicultural diversity we see here today.

My most creative work experience was… This is a tough question! I think my most creative work experience has been the one I’m in now. I am the Head (or College Principal) of the College of Engineering and Architecture at UCD, where we have 2,500 students and 450 staff. The challenges I face in that role are unlike anything I could have ever imagined and very quickly I had to learn more from an academic and a civil engineer. I had to learn to manage people, finance and strategy, but without training in those areas. It has been a steep learning curve, but very exciting.

My first real job was… I was appointed as a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin at the age of 22, so I was lecturing to students who were my age. The best thing about it was that I was so young that I had no fear and I had the confidence that only a 22-year-old boy can have. Can’t believe this is happening today!

One of the most invaluable things I learned early in my career was… Be brave, grab opportunities when they come and realize that sometimes opportunities come at times that are not in your predetermined timeline. When I started my career, I used to sit down and make a timeline of where I would be in three, four or five years, but then the opportunity for promotion to a leadership role came along and that didn’t sit with me. used to have. My plan… So, do you go for the role even if it’s not the time you want it to be or do you wait? For me, the correct answer has always been the former, as my plans may not fit in with the plans of everyone around me. be flexible!

There is a common misconception about what I do… Academics just teach and research and we are all summer away. Nowadays the role of educationists is much wider than just teaching. Teaching is really an important part of what we do, but we also run large organizations that run throughout the year. Depending on the field you are in, you may also play a role in influencing government policy. We also take on roles that may surprise others outside the university. For example, UCD is a big place with over 30,000 students and 5,000 staff, so we need lots of committees and groups to look after our community. That’s why I chair the UCD Dignity and Respect Oversight Group, which plays a role in making sure we deal with bullying and harassment appropriately. It’s not something I thought I’d ever be doing when I first studied engineering, but as you move into management, especially for a large organization like UCD, these things become more become important and become part of your everyday job.

My main responsibility at work is … run the College of Engineering and Architecture in UCD; Largest College of Engineering and Architecture in Ireland. I need to be sure that our programs in engineering are essential to our students and the profession. I work to develop our long-term strategies to determine how UCD Engineering and Architecture can educate the engineers and architects the Irish economy needs. I also want to make sure that our staff and faculty are taken care of, that we have appropriate policies in place to protect them, and enable them to continue doing cutting-edge research. On top of that, I also need to do my research. I work in the field of transportation engineering, with a focus on how we can build and develop infrastructure that allows the transition from carbon-intensive transport to active travel and sustainable modes. This means making sure we reduce car use, making sure we have better access to good public transport and that the poorest and most challenged people in society are not excluded from moving towards more sustainable transport . This is actually an important part of my job because it is absolutely vital that we move away from car dependency, but this can only happen if we create the right infrastructure. It is my job to help decision makers to realize this and make the right decisions that enable us all to reduce our carbon emissions from travel.

Do you have a career mentor or someone you seek advice from?
Not now- but many times in the past, I have. I also did some coaching when I was first in management which was invaluable in talking through problems and issues.

Engineer Graduate Association Award Winners Ceremony – Mr Brian Mulkin, Majela Henchian, Ciaran Connell, Professor Aoife Ahern, Michael McLaughlin, Donal Wyss, Tanja Girdham and Professor Anding Zhu

The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far… To take up the role of College Principal of Engineering and Architecture and Dean of Engineering, notably as the first woman to hold this role at UCD, almost four years ago. I knew that if I was successful in getting the role, there would be more eyes on me than on a male in the role.

i wake up… Every morning at 6:30.

The first thing I do every morning is… Check my emails (a terrible habit I know!)

My morning routine is… Checking email, showering and getting dressed, eating breakfast, getting the boys to school and then starting work.

I can’t go to work without… a coffee first.

I travel to work… car.

On an average workday, I… I don’t have an average work day, but I’ll have at least three or four meetings every day, as I sit in on a lot of management groups. I’ll try to set aside two hours a day to complete tasks and I’ll set aside a Friday afternoon, if I can, to catch up on research.

I start my work day… at 8 am.

This is the first thing I do at work… Turn on the computer, check my calendar and find out where I want to be. UCD is a big campus so I might have a lot of running around to do.

I usually first part of the day… Checking if I have any deadlines coming up so I can prioritize work, and reading documents from my first meeting.

I take a break for lunch… It varies but I usually have my lunch between 1 pm and 3 pm. I take half an hour and eat a sandwich.

The most useful business tool I use every day is… E-mail. I can’t keep in touch without it.

I hardly go through my work day without… At least two coffees!

The best part of my day is… Last thing in the evening, when I can turn off the computer and realize it was a good day.

The most challenging part of my day is… First thing in the morning when I’m trying to organize and get the house ready before I go to work.

I know it’s been a good day if… I feel that I have accomplished something if I complete the tasks set for the morning, and nothing hangs over me for tomorrow.

I usually end my day… 11 p.m.

I switch off from work… Reading, going to the gym, walking the dog, and watching TV. I love going to the theatre, and at least once a month.

Before sleeping, I… Take a glass of water, check that everything is closed and that’s it.

I often prepare for tomorrow… I’m getting my outfit ready so I don’t have to think about it in the morning.

After a long work week, I get tired of… Have a glass of wine on Friday night, go to the movies or the theater, if I can.

The achievement I am most proud of is… Being in a position where I can inspire more women to get into STEM.

If you want to come into my field of work, my advice is to… Choose to study math and don’t be intimidated by it. It’s not as hard as people pretend! Work hard, and be flexible and open to opportunities.

Donal Wyse, Michael McLaughlin, Ciaran Connell and Professor Aoife Ahern at the EGA award winners’ lunch at the University Club.

I just finished working… Putting together a research project proposal to look at the retention rate of women in engineering careers. At the moment I am working on interviewing PhD candidates for a project on electric vehicles and their impact on carbon emissions.


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