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Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

30 August 2022

Building a career as a civil engineer

JCU PhD graduate Nafisa Tamanna says her research in engineering was driven by an intellectual thirst for the wonders and promises of science. Now working at Hansen Constructions NQ, Nafisa gets to apply her expertise in real-world scenarios, supporting new engineering projects in the Townsville region.

Nafisa Tamanna has travelled all around the world studying science and engineering. After growing up in Bangladesh where she completed her Bachelor of Science majoring in Civil Engineering, she then went on to complete her Master’s research in civil engineering in Malaysia. Not long after, Nafisa found herself at James Cook University in Townsville completing her PhD.

“My PhD research topic investigated the use of waste glass as a sand and cement replacement in concrete. My aim was to develop a concrete mix design at an industrial scale to make concrete sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Nafisa says. With more than a quarter of Australia’s glass materials going to landfill, Nafisa’s research supported new and innovative methods for reusing materials to support a more sustainable future in Australia.

Providing insights into the physical and chemical properties of recycled glass when used as a cement replacement, Nafisa’s project helped the Cairns Regional Council save literal tonnes of glass from landfill. “Based on my research outputs, Cairns Regional Council successfully built a concrete footpath using crushed waste glass as partial sand replacement in concrete,” she says.

Not only did Nafisa’s PhD research provide avenues for local councils to improve their sustainability and recycling practices, but seeing her research come to life gave Nafisa the encouragement to start working in the construction industry after completing her PhD.

Nafisa with some of the concrete footpaths that were implemented on a trial basis with the Cairns Regional Council.

Supplied by Nafisa Tamanna

The wonders of science and engineering

Now working as a Civil Engineer at Hansen Constructions NQ (HCNQ), Nafisa says she loves to take on new challenges and learn something every day.

Nafisa says she loves that her job allows her to apply her understanding of theoretical concepts to support large construction projects, but she also gets to use her skills in practice. “I am responsible for developing inspection and testing plans for several projects including the Elliot Springs Reservoir, the Cleveland Bay Recycled Water Treatment Facility and the Riverbank Restoration Project,” Nafisa says.

Working on projects across Townsville, from Elliot Springs to Black River, Nafisa says it brings variety and energy to her day. “In my work I get to assure quality work for the site and constructions, making sure that civil works meet technical standards as well as the requirements of the clients and HCNQ,” she says. “This means I proactively collaborate with many other team members to maintain quality, timeliness and co-ordination on all of our projects.”

Nafisa says her favourite part about working as a civil engineer is that it feeds her intellectual thirst to learn new things. “My fascination with the widely varied world of science and its application in the real world has driven me towards engineering and kept me there,” she says.

“Civil engineering can be a challenging and exciting job in terms of project approval, cost estimation, construction and handover of quality work within the timeframe. I love every part of it as I like to take on challenges and learn new things every single day.”

JCU PhD graduate, Nafisa Tamanna

Council workers in orange shirts working to level wet concrete on a footpath.
JCU PhD graduate Nafisa Tamanna smiling and kneeling in front of the completed concrete footpath.
Left: Workers from the Cairns Regional Council implementing the concrete using Nafisa's research. Right: Nafisa with the completed footpath that was made with the crushed waste glass.

Crushed glass opens a world of opportunities

Nafisa says that completing her PhD has opened a world of opportunities, giving her both technical skills in engineering but also transferable skills for many contexts.

“During my PhD journey I learned how to think critically and develop connections between ideas. I am now able to determine the importance and relevance of arguments, identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning and analyse available information to reach my own conclusions,” Nafisa says. These types of skills can be applied to any challenge that comes Nafisa’s way.

In terms of technical skills in science and engineering, Nafisa’s research made her well-acquainted with construction specifications and standards. “Through my research I became very proficient in Australian construction standards and advanced material characterisation methods. I am able to use these skills in my day-to-day work as a civil engineer,” she says.

Looking back, Nafisa says her PhD research provided her with a platform for the rest of her career. “My research at JCU offered me a great chance to expand my networks and meet diverse people with similar interests and passions by attending conferences, seminars and workshops. Many of these connections were with people from different industries, different cities and different countries.

“A PhD is not just studying the research topic, it is also about learning core skills that apply to jobs in the industry,” she says. "It is a pathway to building your self-efficacy and self-confidence.”

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