PhD student

Colin Whittaker

PhD Student, University of Canterbury

In a nutshell: Investigating and modelling the way tsunamis are caused by submarine landslides.

Why? "I like the fact that I am able to study an area of interest to me."

Pathway: Burnside High School, Final year subjects: Accounting, Calculus, Chemistry, Economics, Physics
University of Canterbury: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), specialising in Civil Engineering; PhD (in progress)

Earning: $18,000 pa scholarship, including fees waiver

My family, friends and high school teachers all encouraged me to choose a career related to engineering and natural resources.

I'm currently working toward a PhD in Civil Engineering - topic is 'Modelling of tsunami generation and propagation due to submarine landslides'.

Some parts of New Zealand's coastline are at risk of flooding due to landslide-generated tsunamis. An increased understanding of these events will enable coastal communities to be better prepared for their occurrence.

My day-to-day work includes reading and working through the mathematics and programming for numerical models. I also work in a laboratory to try to model tsunami behaviour on a small scale. I read scientific papers, textbooks and technical manuals to determine methods that will best predict how tsunamis behave.

A big challenge has been deciding on the laboratory setup to be used, both in terms of meeting our goals and able to be constructed and used effectively.

You need to have a good background in maths and physics to create accurate models based on fluid mechanics. It's also quite creative as I have to come up with innovative solutions and figure out better ways to complete tasks.

To do a PhD you need good time management and problem-solving skills, but the main thing you need is enthusiasm for your chosen area of study. This is because a PhD is such a long time commitment.

I like that I am able to study an area of interest to me, and able to use cutting-edge technologies to do this. The engineering department is a great environment in which to carry out research, and I am able to work independently.

Posted October 2011

Follow this pathway:

Degree in Civil Engineering: Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural or Transport