Learning the landscape
Moving back from the Netherlands to the UK in late 2010 for a full academic position was really exciting and I remember thinking it was going to be a true test of my capabilities as a researcher. I had been working in Delft (the centre of the universe if you are a Water Engineer!) for a higher education institute delivering MSc and PhD education, as well as capacity building projects across the Global South, where there was an emphasis on applied, practical on-the-ground research.
The challenge I perceived was translating my research for the highly competitive, cutting edge research market in the UK and ensuring that my tendency towards applied ideas did not disadvantage me. I needed to learn the landscape first, and as a young (ish!) researcher I was eligible for the First Grant scheme (now the New Investigator scheme) offered by the EPSRC.
After a maternity break (no. 1) I submitted the proposal in 2013 which built on my time in industry and working with fluvial flood risk predominantly in Africa and Asia. Entitled; ‘Accounting for climate change uncertainty in flood hazard prediction’ the research focussed on uncertainty quantification in future flood risk, particularly the uncertainty arising from climate change models and projections.
Freedom to explore
This grant gave me the freedom to explore research ideas independently and to set the direction of my future career. With the ideas and connections I developed while using the grant, I applied for a short project through Heriot-Watt’s EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account. This allowed for myself and a colleague to undertake a short sabbatical working in industry in order to translate the outcomes of this research into flood assessment practice. These opportunities arose because of the different types of grants available, as well as the drive from RCUK for impactful research and my desire for useful outputs. Through this work in industry, the ideas for ‘Water Resilient Cities: climate uncertainty and urban vulnerability to hydro-hazards’ started to form.
The Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) challenge fellowship call in 2015 was highlighted by my Director of Research at the time, and it seemed perfectly aligned to my direction of investigation, as I was very keen to integrate a social dimension into my research. A fellowship seemed like an amazing opportunity; as well as an almost unassailable goal. With significant support and guidance from academics around me at Heriot-Watt, and my improving thick skin (resilience in the face of constructive criticism), the idea evolved over a number of months. I succeeded through the outline, full proposal and eventually the interview stages to be awarded an Early Career Fellowship in 2016. This has truly been the springboard to my research career. It has afforded me the space and time to develop my team, research direction, network and standing in the research community. It has linked me to the Research Councils, given me opportunities to speak at the Royal Society, and increased my outreach, allowing me to work with policy-makers and politicians.
Managing hydrometeorological risk is a worldwide problem, and with the opportunities afforded by the freedom of a five-year fellowship, alongside Heriot-Watt University’s international positioning, (campuses in the Middle East and South East Asia) I am now looking forward to re-establishing an international perspective in my research and create more opportunities for international collaborations in the future.