Why did you choose to go on Sabbatical?
I had been Director of Studies for the undergraduate programmes in civil engineering for the three years prior to my sabbatical. Whilst I had kept myself research active during this time there were various loose-ends (also known as papers) that needed tidying up. Furthermore, I wanted to explore some new areas of research particularly microorganism-cement interactions.
What did you do during your period of leave?
I spent four of the six months of my sabbatical at INSA in Toulouse working with Prof. Alexandra Bertron and Prof. Martin Cyr. I was fortunate that they were able to obtain funding to cover my accommodation costs. Much of my time in Toulouse was spent working with Alexandra’s PhD students looking at the response of concrete to biogenic sulfuric acid attack, an area where INSA Toulouse are world leading and a research area I had considered moving into. I also took the opportunity to visit the Lafarge Cement Research Facility in Lyon and attended a conference in North Carolina, USA.
But more than anything the sabbatical gave me the opportunity to read and write. I spent many days sitting on the balcony in my flat in Toulouse reading papers and making notes for potential new research directions. I also completed some journal papers and worked on book chapters.
What difference has this period of leave made to your career?
It’s difficult to identify exactly what has happened because of the sabbatical and what might have happened anyway. Certainly, on my return I started working on a £5m EPSRC programme grant (which was successful) and many of the ideas that made their way into that proposal were thought up during my time away.
What the sabbatical also did was provide me with renewed confidence that the way I approach my research, particularly experimental work, was correct. It turns out that my colleagues in France have similar laboratory problems to those we face here in Bath and they deal with them in essentially the same way. These issues are never mentioned in papers and never discussed in conferences. You need to be there to see it.