John Cheah

John Cheah developed meaningful connections while completing his PhD and stays in touch with the engineering community through his role in the AUEA.

Qualifications: BE(Hons) and PhD in Civil Engineering
Role: Project Managing Consultant at Synergine Group Limited

“During my final year project, I found the research process to be interesting and fulfilling. I enjoyed interacting with my research supervisors as a peer, working on developing test methods and testing programmes with the lab technicians, and engaging with contractors and the client.

“This led to me pursuing doctoral studies in Civil and Environmental Engineering because the pathway was open to me at the University of Auckland to skip doing a masters course and go straight into a PhD. It seemed to be a time-efficient way to reach the pinnacle of educational achievement and embark on an interesting career path.

“The research topic was the Development of a cement-stabilised, flax-fibre reinforced, rammed earth housing solution for rural Māori communities. It involved all stages of a project ranging from finding a suitable rural Māori community to work with, identifying and characterising local sources of materials, structural and seismic testing, facilitating Mauri Model decision making workshops with all stakeholders, designing the structure, obtaining building consent for the dwelling, training local individuals to ram earth, project managing the construction, and commissioning the dwelling.

“I enjoyed learning about Māori culture and indigenous knowledge, and using that knowledge to inform my doctoral research methodology and the implementation of the housing solution. My familiarity with the Mauri Model decision making framework and experience with using it resulted in me being invited to speak as a guest lecturer on several occasions. Personally, I developed meaningful connections and close friendships with the university lab technicians and individuals in the Māori community from Ahipara and Rotoiti where my research work was based.

“Following my doctoral studies, I took up a research and development position at Stormwater360 for three and a half years. The work I did there drew on my knowledge of soils and soil testing, as well as product development and data analysis. My main responsibility was to support the development of, and bring to market, Filterra tree-pit devices, a proprietary stormwater treatment product. The device has been since been installed on several sites around the country and is one of the main treatment products sold by Stormwater360.

“My current role is as a project managing consultant with Synergine Group Limited. This role draws on my experience engaging with many different stakeholders, facilitating decision making processes, and has drawn on my structural and general engineering knowledge to work on a roading improvement project in Auckland, the design and implementation of a 5-star residential development, and a regional conference centre in New Zealand. Some jobs involve travelling to the provinces to engage with local council, the client and iwi, whilst for others I have been seconded to another company for the duration of a project. I do little in the way of engineering analysis, design and calculations nowadays. Predominantly I meet with stakeholders and clients, write reports and manage the delivery of information and project outputs.

“I’m also now a member of the Auckland University Engineering Association (AUEA) Executive Committee. After graduating I received regular emails from the AUEA as an Alumni, but didn’t see value in attending their events. Since entering full-time work, it’s been great to see my peers progress in their careers, start businesses and contribute to the development of Auckland and other places in big ways, but similarly it has been difficult to keep in touch with most of them. I’ve recognised the AUEA events to be an excellent way to catch up with old friends instead of sending the occasional text message or stalking them on LinkedIn and Facebook and liking their updates. AUEA events are also a useful way to keep abreast of what’s going on in the wider engineering work and contribute to building a much-needed community of professional engineers.

“I would encourage people considering a PhD to read a book and attend seminars on the doctoral process in their first year or before. Doing a bit of reading on the process and required outputs will help with identifying good research directions to pursue and to make better informed decisions during the formative period of the doctoral studies.

“Presenting at national and international conferences is a great goal to aim for too. Giving an oral presentation at a conference helps other conference delegates to know who you are and what you do. It makes networking easier. It also helps you to improve as a communicator which just as important as conducting quality research.”