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PhD student

PhD student

Colin Whittaker, University of Canterbury

Earning: Scholarship: Fees + $18,000 per year
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, Year 13: Accounting, Economics, Physics, Chemistry, Calculus
University of Canterbury: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) majoring in Civil Engineering

A number of people encouraged Colin Whittaker to choose a career related to engineering and natural resources, including family, friends and high school teachers. “My father was the biggest influence on my decision to study engineering,” he says.

Colin is working toward a PhD in Civil Engineering at the University of Canterbury.  His topic is ‘Modelling of tsunami generation and propagation due to submarine landslides’, an important area of knowledge for this part of the world. 

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

From day to day, his work includes reading and working through the mathematics and programming for numerical models.  He also works in the laboratory to try to model tsunami behaviour on a small scale. He reads scientific papers, textbooks and technical manuals to determine methods that will best predict tsunami behaviour.

“For example, there are many measurement techniques available and different ways to implement each one.  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.”

Colin’s background in maths and physics is very important for creating accurate models based on fluid mechanics.  He also uses creativity to come up with innovative solutions or figure out a better way to complete a task.

Overall, he finds that this field of study is challenging and exciting.  “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,” he says.  “This is because a PhD is such a long time commitment.”

“I like the fact 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