Dr Carrie Behar
Carrie completed her PhD in 2016 and now works as the Head of Sustainability at Useful Simple Trust, and Associate Sustainability Consultant at Expedition Engineering and Useful Projects. I spoke to Carrie about her time in LoLo CDT, what she was doing now, and her experiences along the way.
What did you take with you from your time at LoLo into your career/post-PhD life? (e.g. training you received, the opportunities you came across, the ideas you developed during your PhD)
Joining LoLo completely changed my career trajectory, and for the better! I was able to learn a whole range of academic, technical, and practical professional skills that helped me go back into the workplace confident in my ability to contribute towards creating a more sustainable and equitable built environment. It opened my eyes to a range of possibilities I hadn’t previously considered and provided many opportunities to network with leading experts in my field. It was an absolute pleasure to study among a cohort of ambitious and intelligent PhD students, with whom I shared a vision for supporting the UK’s transition towards zero carbon dependency.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced moving from a PhD into a job/career?
Balancing the commercial pressures of running a business and meeting the needs of our clients, whilst maximising benefits to people and planet, is one of our biggest challenges in the engineering and construction industry. After spending four years on a single (albeit extended) project for my PhD, the timescales of consultancy and business seemed incredibly short, and I still miss having the opportunity to spend an afternoon chasing references through research publications and really understanding a particular issue before writing about it or proposing solutions. The projects I work on now can be as short as just a few days, so I really rely on my intuition and tacit knowledge to solve many of the real-world problems I encounter.
Working in the field of sustainable construction, the bench posts are always shifting, and new knowledge and technical innovations are constantly emerging. I have to work hard to keep up with the latest thinking so that we can continue to lead and innovate in the services we deliver.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently (or what could the CDT do differently/more of) to help you become better-equipped and ready for life after your PhD?
One of the most important aspects of a programme like LoLo is the people you meet and networks you become part of. I used to really enjoy the annual LoLo reunion dinner and colloquium and hope that post-Covid19 we can rekindle a stronger alumni network with both students and staff. Not all employers are aware of the benefits of hiring people with PhDs, and developing routes into skilled and well-paid employment is important. Undertaking a PhD is a big investment, financially and in terms of time taken out of paid employment, and I’d love to see as many as possible of the LoLo alumni becoming leaders in energy and sustainability both in academia and beyond.
What was your experience of EDI within the CDT and how does it compare to your experience after moving on from the CDT?
I’m so pleased that EDI is rapidly rising up the agenda and it’s so important to me that the people solving important national and global challenges are representative of the diversity they are seeking to support.
I felt lucky to be part of the UCL Energy Institute, which at the time I was there was full of students from all over the world studying together for a shared global purpose. Unfortunately, the funding mechanisms behind LoLo favoured British citizens. When I was finishing my PhD, I didn’t see myself, a female, reflected in the Department’s leadership and this contributed towards my decision not to pursue an academic field. Furthermore, the way postdocs are funded on fixed-term contracts is not compatible with a life stage when women are seeking to start a family. I knew that I wanted to have children soon after finishing my PhD and so made the decision to look for jobs outside of academia, that offered paid parental leave and a steady income.
I’m currently on parental leave with my second child, and excited to be going back to my role as Head of Sustainability at the Useful Simple Trust later this year. EDI and sustainability are intrinsically connected and I’m part of our organisational EDI group, which we established a few years ago, as we became more aware of how far we had to go before we had a truly equitable and inclusive business. We’ve tackled recruitment, staff retention, the gender and ethnicity pay gap among our workstreams and are in the process of developing EDI KPIs which will form part of our business strategy and performance monitoring.