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Susan Tighe

What is your current job?

My current position is a professor of civil engineering, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Pavement and Infrastructure management, Norman W. McLeod Professor in Sustainable Pavement Engineering and Director of the Centre for Pavement and Transportation Technology at the University of Waterloo. In these roles, my responsibilities include the establishment and management of a multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art laboratory and field-test facility, supervision of staff and students, leadership on several major projects and involvement in several national and international professional committees. I also participate in the construction and monitoring of over 50 satellite test sections across Canada at airports and on various roads.

My research involves making pavement for both roads and runways that is longer lasting, safer, more cost effective and sustainable. This involves incorporating climate change into design tools and developing better life cycle assessment management tools. I also teach courses in transportation, pavement engineering and infrastructure management to graduate and undergraduate students.

What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?

I pursued engineering because I liked math and science and I knew an engineering degree was very marketable. I was attracted to the fact that it was a professional program where there was a demand. Once in the program, I realized just how interesting the profession was. I also really liked the application of science to real-world problems and knowing that my work impacted the quality of life for Canadians. Having been a practicing engineer for 20 years, I can see the impact of my work both in Canada and around the globe, particularly in the developing world. Engineering is a wonderful career, as you learn to solve technically complex problems that can have huge impacts on the planet.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

There are a lot of things that I like about my job. I really enjoy mentoring and coaching students and young professionals. It is wonderful when you work with someone who goes on to be very successful and happy in their career and life. I also enjoy my interactions with research partners in the public and private sectors. I have had the opportunity to work with other professionals to advance state-of-the-practice both nationally and internationally, and enjoy serving on professional committees and boards, as this provides an opportunity to impact engineering practice and policy development. My job is challenging and rewarding.

How do you celebrate National Engineering Month?

My research laboratory will be open to students in Grade 6, 7 and 8 for a tour and demonstration as part of the Engineering Explorations event organized by Waterloo Engineering’s outreach team, demonstrating the potential benefits of our research and encouraging youth to pursue engineering careers. In addition, I will speak at a seminar at a local library, and participate in a panel session organized by Waterloo Engineering’s Women in Engineering (WIE) committee on the topic of Maternity Leave and Your Engineering Career.

What advice do you have for young women who hope to pursue a career in your field?

Engineering is a wonderful career choice, especially if you enjoy math and science. It is challenging and stimulating, as you are often tasked with solving problems that require innovation, creativity and new ideas. Your work directly impacts society and is thus very important. To be successful in engineering, you must have a good attitude and be willing to work hard, which will result in a very rewarding and satisfying career. I strongly believe in promoting women in engineering, as diversity in every profession brings different perspectives that can be very helpful in solving problems. I have always felt that this different perspective has been an advantage for me.

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Professor Susan Tighe is a Canada Research Chair in Pavement and Infrastructure Management, Norman W. McLeod Professor in Sustainable Pavement Engineering, Founding Principal and Director of the Centre for Pavement and Transportation Technology (CPATT), and a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo. She has been a registered professional engineer since 1995 in the Province of Ontario, holding a BASc in Chemical Engineering from Queen’s University, and MASc and PhD degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Waterloo. Upon graduation from her BASc, she worked for the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario in various roles including two years as a construction site engineer, one year as a design engineer and one year writing standards and specifications. She then completed her MASc and PhD degrees. Professor Tighe has also spent six months in Australia working for a contractor as a senior technical advisor in 2005/2006 during an academic sabbatical, was an Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, and held a United Kingdom Royal Academy of Engineering Fellowship at the University of Nottingham in Nottingham, England. Professor Tighe led the development of the new 2013 Pavement Asset Design and Management Guide for the Transportation Association of Canada which is the principle pavement design document in Canada.

Professor Tighe is an author of over 400 technical publications in pavements and infrastructure and is involved in a number of research projects both nationally and internationally. She was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 for her leadership and vision with respect to the Canadian Transportation Community in 2006 and was a 2009 recipient of the inaugural 40 Under 40 in the Region of Waterloo. Additional honours include the En-hui Yang Research Innovation Award in 2010, and the Young Engineer Medal from the Professional Engineers of Ontario in 2004. She is a member of the Transportation Association of Canada Chief Engineers Council and the Past Chair of the Transportation Association of Canada Soils and Materials Standing Committee and Transportation Foundation Scholarship Committee. She participates on various Transportation Research Board committees and expert task groups, and served as Chair of the International Steering committee for the 7th and 8th International Conference on Managing Pavement Assets. She is currently a member of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Civil, Industrial and Systems Engineering Evaluation Committee and a member of the Interdisciplinary Adjudication Committee of the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat. She has been involved with projects throughout Africa, India, South America, China, Australia, New Zealand and North America.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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