Martina Manes, PhD student

“Think about the bigger picture, your contribution could really have an impact on people’s lives.”

Martina Manes, PhD student, Institute for Infrastructure and Environment

Martina Manes is currently completing her PhD research in the Fire Safety Group in the School’s Institute for Infrastructure and the Environment.

Martina obtained her Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Perugia followed by a Master’s in structural engineering from the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, where she also obtained her professional qualification as a civil engineer.

For her Master’s thesis, Martina carried out her research at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, USA, where she investigated the viscoelastic effects of concrete in reinforced concrete columns in high-rise buildings. =

Martina’s PhD research is focused on the resilience optimization of structures exposed to fires based on fire statistics in the UK and USA. Martina was awarded the John Moyes Lessells Travel Scholarship in 2019 to further develop her research for three months at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

From 2018-2019, Martina was the President of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers Student Chapter of the University of Edinburgh, where experts in the fire safety field are invited to seminars to inspire students in their future careers and professionals in their daily practice. Martina is a tutor and demonstrator for second year civil engineering students in the School of Engineering, and has presented at the IGNITE Session of the European SFPE Conference 2019 in Malaga, Spain to support women in engineering.

What inspired you to get into engineering, and is it the same thing that inspires you today?

I decided to become a civil engineer after experiencing several earthquakes in my hometown, Ascoli Piceno, which is located in a seismic region in the centre of Italy. Examples of these earthquakes are the one in Assisi in 1997, L’Aquila in 2009 and one in August 2016 which completely destroyed the city of Amatrice and affected the surrounding areas and the lives of some of my dear friends.

I realized that there is a strong need for engineers and experts able to evaluate the static and dynamic structural response of buildings in these areas to ensure safe housing for people. This was the main reason why I decided to undertake studies in civil engineering with an interest in structures specifically. Today, I would like to apply my knowledge to real-world problems, understanding the damage that hazards can have on buildings and the related consequences of these events on people and communities.

Tell us a bit about your career and studies in engineering up to this point; what you enjoyed and what have you found most challenging?

I have studied in five universities across many different countries: Italy, the USA, the UK and Australia. I have worked with supervisors with different research interests and backgrounds. I strongly believe in the value of collaboration and in the inestimable opportunity of working in different cultures and countries.

The complexity of the discipline in which I am currently working has always represented a great challenge. My enthusiasm for discovering new knowledge and working with extraordinary professionals can come with some difficulties: having to adapt quickly and to reinvent myself in different situations. What helped me most in continuing in my chosen path was focusing my attention on the bigger picture, and what my contribution as a civil engineer could provide to improve people’s safety.

Can you explain your research ‘in a nutshell’?

My research arises from the need to address the lack of data related to pre- and post-fire conditions of real structures subjected to real fires. It also seeks to create probabilistic risk assessments to quantify structural damage according to possible mitigation factors and related financial losses.

My PhD topic considers the UK, the USA and New Zealand fire statistics to understand causes and consequences of fires in buildings to evaluate direct financial losses as a result of the fire. I have applied probabilistic techniques to investigate key parameters for fire engineers to assess how factors contribute to ignition, growth and effects of fire in terms of consequences and likelihood that a given set of consequences will occur. British Standards PD 7974-7:2003 is related to the probabilistic risk assessment and presents fire incidents data from 1966 to 1987. These data have now been updated with results from my PhD research, which is based on current UK and USA fire statistics showing analogies and differences.

What attracted you to a career in research and academia?

I have always had an interest in developing research to further the advancement of technologies and to improve life for communities. I also wanted to involve authorities in the discussion about fire prevention and mitigation measures and address the need to highlight the importance of pre-disaster assessments.

I love to share my experiences with students and demonstrate how theoretical knowledge can be applied in real life to create advantages and innovations for communities. Moreover, I really enjoy encouraging engineering students to play an active role in the learning processes and supporting them in their path to become critical thinkers.

What do you enjoy most about research and academia at the School of Engineering?

Thanks to the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, I have had the opportunity to develop my PhD research and to grow professionally and personally.

I have had the honour of attending international conferences and have published my work in scientific journals. The disciplines and research topics present in the School of Engineering have opened my views to wider horizons of research.

What career advice would you give to aspiring students, particularly young women, wishing to pursue a career in STEM?

I would advise students to always think about the bigger picture, and how their knowledge and contributions could really have an impact on people’s lives. I would also tell them not to be afraid to ask for help because there are always other students or academics who will be able to support and inspire them.

To young girls, like me some years ago, who dream of becoming an engineer, I send all my wishes to you for a great career. My advice to them – I was part of the 30% of female students in my university class, so do not to let your gender define your dreams.

What career advice would you give to undergraduate and postgraduate students wishing to pursue a career in research and academia?

If you wish to pursue a career in research and academia, stay faithful to your dream. I cannot guarantee that it will be an easy journey, but if you believe in yourself and apply your passion, the achievements will find a way to reach you.

Martina Manes
Martina Manes