VIDEO: Liam Steers: Masters Candidate in Civil Engineering

Posted on May 02, 2017

Liam Steers took a couple of years to work before returning to pursue an advanced degree. The work experience proved valuable and now his research into landslides - the static liquefaction of granular slopes - will, among other things, help engineers and planners decide where and how to build areas where landslide risk is high. Perhaps his story can help you navigate your choices about graduate school.

Learn more about The School of Graduate Studies at Queen's and the Department of Civil Engineering.

  • Video transcript:

    Hi, my name's Liam Steers, I am supervised by Dr Andy Take in the Department of Civil Engineering and my research if focused on the static liquefaction of granular slopes.

    Coming from high school, I knew that I was always interested in science and mathematics. Engineering seemed to be a natural choice.

    I am the fourth generation of engineer in my family so there's my grandfather, my dad, myself, and I guess my great-grandfather as well.

    In my undergrad, instead of doing civil engineering, I decided to do geological. It kind of fit the trend that my family goes through. My grandfather was a geological engineer as well, and his father was a mining engineer, so it seemed to be a natural choice and taking the first-year geo course really inspired me to go into the geo stream, learning about landslides and earthquakes just really seemed to fit what I was interested in.

    After I graduated, I worked for about a year-and a half - two years for a geotechnical site investigation company. I did often feel that I would come back and do a graduate degree. I just didn't know when. After graduating and getting a bit of work experience, I just felt that it was time to go back and pursue what I always wanted to do.

    I always had a passion for landslides and having taken Dr Take's undergrad geotechnical course, I realized that this is the supervisor that I want to work with. I found his research to be quite interesting and I knew that he was a leader in the his field, so I thought this was the perfect situation.

    My research focuses on the static liquefaction of granular slopes, so what I'm doing is modelling with a centrifuge out in Newfoundland.

    We're testing at 30 g on 5 cm-thick slope, so a 5 cm-thick slope under 30 g makes it seem like it's 1.5 m in thickness, making it a more realistic problem. You're never going to have a landslide that's 5 cm thick, so doing this we get more realistic slope, but also testing under g, we are able to make these tests that might take months or years to perform. We can do them in a matter of hours so we get real-time results much more quickly.

    I am using a process called digital image correlation with a piece of software that my supervisor, Dr Take, developed in his PhD to actually track specific pixels of images in the slide so that we get an idea of their displacement and how quickly they are moving.

    From my personal experience, I find that going out and getting work experience is quite beneficial and coming back and doing grad studies though, for example, in my undergrad, I took a bunch of courses that talk about various types of field testing that you do and they give you a very brief overview of what it is and they show you some plots of the data that's collected and they say, 'This is what this is, just run with it. Just test it.'

    But having had that work experience and knowing how that data is collected, how it's interpreted, how the consultant then goes and uses it, gives me a broader understanding of the strengths as well as the weaknesses with the particular tests and how we can then later apply them to actual design.

    If you're on the fence, go for it because there's really no downside to it. You get some experience toward your PEng, you become a specialist in the area you're researching, which can be very appealing to employers, something appealing to graduates is that once you graduate, you have a higher starting salary more often than someone with an undergraduate degree and it's really just two years. In the long run that's not going to affect your overall career negatively it can only affect it positively.