Timber framing of house walls and roof

Reflections as a Summer Research Scholar

My interest in humanitarian engineering, combined with my aspiration to pursue postgraduate research, became my main motivators when first applying for the Summer Research Program. Fortunately, my acceptance into the program paved way to a valuable learning opportunity where I was able to undertake a project that not only provided me with a small insight into the world of research, but also into the developing field of humanitarian engineering. Furthermore, my research project, which will be discussed in detail below, was also a rewarding experience as it allowed me to contribute, even in a small way, to a cause close to my heart – the disaster-affected people of the Philippines. This is magnified by the fact that the project was in collaboration with Build Change – an international non-profit social enterprise focused on designing resilient houses and training communities to build them in countries affected by disasters, including the Philippines.

The Summer Research Program was beneficial in that it provided me with the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge I have obtained in my studies. These include; determination of load forces using engineering standards, specifically the National Structural Code of the Philippines; analysis of timber-framed one-story and two-story houses; evaluation of data; utilisation of research frameworks; and communication of findings by writing a report and policy brief. Additionally, I was able to further develop my organisational and time management skills through this experience. This is due to the independent nature of research where a self-motivated attitude is crucial in meeting deadlines. However, with the support of my supervisor, Dr Aaron Opdyke, any concerns I had were addressed through our face-to-face meetings or email. His experience and knowledge relating to the technical aspects of the project, research methods and humanitarian engineering in general was very valuable. Nevertheless, the project did still come with some challenges, including a shift of scope of work in the middle of the program, but these setbacks are reflective of what happens in real research.

The research project that I had the privilege of working on involved surveying humanitarian shelter and structural engineering experts on post-disaster housing. Specifically, it aimed to prioritise the messages in the ‘8 Build Back Safer Key Messages’ developed by the Global Shelter Cluster (GSC) after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013. My role was to assist Zhenwen (Fiona) Wang, a current Master of Professional Engineering (Civil) Candidate, in her project by helping her develop a survey, collating and analysing the data, and producing graphs to display the results. Furthermore, I wrote an extensive report and 3-page policy briefing that highlighted the key findings. Through this experience, I was able to discover several interesting things including experts’ consideration of bracing, joints and foundations as the most important components for a safe house, as shown in the graphic below. This is a useful finding as it informs homeowners with limited financial and material resources the components that they should prioritise.

We also found that 1 in 3 of the strength rankings of construction methods according to the GSC do not coincide with expert opinions. This discovery points to areas that can be improved in current messages to better support homeowners when rebuilding their homes. Having the opportunity to uncover these findings, amongst many more, encapsulates my enjoyable and enriching time as a Summer Research Scholar.

Interested in joining our lab as an undergraduate researcher? The Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies at the University of Sydney summer research scholarships support eligible undergraduate students with up to $5,000 to complete research over 10 weeks.Learn more.

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