STEMM PROFILE: Dr Ulrike Dackermann, PhD | Civil Engineer and Lecturer | UNSW Australia | Sydney | NSW

Ulrike Dackermann - Dec 2015
Dr Ulrike Dackermann [Image: UTS]

“The work atmosphere at university … can be quite lonesome and, especially for women, it is very important to have a social network at work”

Dr Ulrike Dackermann is a Lecturer in Structures in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a member of the Centre for Infrastructure, Engineering and Safety at UNSW Australia in Sydney.

Dr Dackermann’s expertise lies in structural dynamics, damage detection, structural health monitoring, non-destructive testing, artificial intelligence and timber engineering. She believes that integrating artificial intelligence (AI) in smart structural health monitoring systems can help generate more sophisticated and reliable inspection procedures, ensuring the sustainability of civil infrastructure. On a project involving the Sydney Harbour Bridge, she developed new damage assessment methods to safeguard its longevity, using AI to analyse vibration measurements gathered from the bridge’s sensor system.

Dr Dackermann’s knowledge in AI also has practical applications for the energy sector. In an ARC Linkage grant, partnering with AusGrid, she used her expertise in AI and timber engineering to develop a screening tool that enables AusGrid pole inspectors to distinguish healthy poles from unhealthy poles using wave-based detection and AI to locate invisible damage.

Ulrike completed her civil engineering degree in Germany in 2003. As part of her degree, she worked in Norway on a research thesis on the dynamics of a timber bridge, sparking her interest in research work. To support her travels during a gap year, she worked as a research assistant at UTS and was inspired to pursue a PhD, working in the area of dynamic-based damage detection and artificial intelligence. After completing her PhD in 2010, she volunteered with Engineers Without Borders in Nepal, working on improved designs of mud-brick cooking stoves. In 2011, she was a recipient of the highly prestigious UTS Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, enabling her to continue her research and extending her expertise in the fields of structural health monitoring and non-destructive testing. During this fellowship, she undertook sabbatical research at the “Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing” (BAM) in Berlin, Germany, extending her network and deepening her knowledge in non-destructive testing. In 2012, she embarked again on a volunteering trip, this time to Tanzania, adopting her mud-brick cooking stove designs for application to local schools.

In 2014, she took a lecturing position at UTS, teaching several structural engineering subjects. She remains an active researcher working on various research projects such as the structural health monitoring of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the condition assessment of timber poles and the monitoring of timber bridges and flooring structures.

As a true engineer, when she sees and identifies a problem, she must help to solve it. This vision has extended to her work abroad with Engineers Without Borders where seemingly simple innovations have resulted in practical real life solutions for communities to conserve energy, improve health outcomes and diminish environmental degradation. This ‘giving back’ is Dr Dackermann’s down to earth, hands-on approach to creating balance in her life as a researching academic and a global engineer.

Ulrike is the proud mother of two gorgeous boys, Erik and Henry. A passionate traveler, she has visited over 70 counties and 500 cities around the world.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

To be able to think outside of the box, be able to keep a wide horizon (yet still pay attention to detail), and to be inspired by and to collaborate with others.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?

To have a clear vision on where to go. To be passionate about his/her work and to be able to pass on that passion. To understand the needs and have compassion for others. To see and support the talents of others. To listen to others. To be hard working while maintaining a good work/life balance.

How can we change the scientific work culture to improve work/life balance?

To promote more social interaction with others at work. The work atmosphere at university (for researchers and lecturers) can be quite lonesome and, especially for women, it is very important to have a social network at work. Lots of flexibility around working hours.

If you have had a career disruption, how did you manage to stay productive during this time– what helped you the most?

During my maternity leave, I managed to continue my research, in a much scaled down version. While I only worked a few hours each week, I managed to successfully write a paper, submit a research grant application and revise papers for publication. Since my hours were very flexible during this time, I was leisurely working in cafes or parks, breastfeeding my baby whilst sipping on a cuppa.

What is your ideal holiday – and do you work on your holiday?

Travelling to remote areas of this world including hiking in high mountain ranges, staying in villages in the deep jungle, crossing deserts or oceans, diving in pristine waters, befriending local people. Yes, most of the time, I also do some work during my trips – but in moderation and in enjoyable surroundings.

LinkedIn: Ulrike Dackermann

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