About CSci

  • Dr Alma Lopez-Aviles MCIWEM CSci
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Dr Alma Lopez-Aviles MCIWEM CSci
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Northern Ireland
First Degree: 
Senior Consultant Hydrology & Climate Change Adaptation
Works For: 
Pet Hates: 
People who shout at others when they’re talking
Burning Ambition: 
To make a contribution to climate change
I would like to eradicate poverty
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I wanted to be a researcher. Investigating things has always appealed to me
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I really enjoyed university and studying so I always thought that I would do a PhD. I knew I wanted to do more once I started my degree
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I like going on-site especially when you have the opportunity to go to a remote area like the Highlands in Scotland where I’m working on wind farm project. I love feeling like I’m doing my bit and I’m happy that I’m contributing to alternative energies
What would you change? 
There is sometimes too much bureaucracy, both internally and with the regulators
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
I studied Geography at the undergraduate level Complutense University
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I got my PhD in Fluvial Geomorphology and Hydrology at the University of Leeds
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell people I am originally from Madrid, Spain, but have studied, lived and worked in the UK for the last 16 years. I work on helping with flooding and also climate change policy. Normally they just say “Very interesting” and that’s where the conversation stops
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
My first job was as a teaching assistant. From there I did a few part-time jobs at various universities, and I then went on to work for an engineering company that specialized in the environment, engineering, and anything related to water. I was there for two years, and then I worked for the Environment Agency as a development control engineer (which means people who look at planning applications to assess flood risk and other water-related issues like erosion of banks etc.) So, for example, if someone wants to build a marina you advise them on that process and issues like the protection of banks etc. After three years at the Environment Agency I went to their headquarters to work on climate change adaptation policy. I found that very interesting: going back to doing academic research and writing technical papers on flood risk management and internal strategies. Then I took a career break when I had my first child. I now have two children, Aida and Lucas, who are ten and three years old. I’ve now been working for Enviros for two and half years. Enviros is an environmental consultancy and does all sorts of environmental services
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
I often look at both flood risk and planning and their various aspects. As part of this, I often influence the design of bridges and their development. Generally I look at how things should be built, and this involves talking to a wide range of people: engineers and architects, planning consultants, traffic consultants, regulators…the list goes on…but it involves a fair number of disciplines. I also do work with carbon calculating and more on climate change side – calculating a carbon footprint can involve talking to economists as well as hydraulic engineers
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
I hope that politicians get it finally that we need to look after the Earth first and then worry about banks and everything else second. I just hope that things go that way and people start taking notice…we will all be busier if we work in environmental sciences
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
Not many people think of women doing flood risk management – on my team I’m the only one. Overall there are far fewer women in my line of work. It’s not unusual for me to be at a meeting where there are many 19 men and I’m the only woman. I’m used to it…but I find it irritating that men shout louder!
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
No. I work too much outside of the time I get paid. There are knock-on effects on my family life. For example, I was writing a proposal all last week and getting up at five in the morning
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
I think they all think it’s interesting…I don’t know if they realize how demanding it is and how hard I have to work
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I don’t relax – I don’t have any time. I like spending time in Spain (Madrid) and travelling. I’m married to an Ethiopian in origin who I met at Leeds. My husband studied at a Quaker college in States and then did alternative energies for developing countries for his PhD at Leeds. Already our daughter Aida shows an interest in science – she’s good at logic
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I realized CSci gives you recognition professionally when I was in the Environment Agency and makes it easier in terms of your career progression. Sometimes engineers don’t realize you’ve gone through the same career path, and CSci helps to get yourself recognized
What is the value of professional bodies? 
Professional bodies are very important to keep in the loop with scientific developments and with what’s happening in your field – things like evening seminars are really useful. Professional bodies are also a good forum for discussion with colleagues. [Through my professional body] I got a paper published in the Water & Environment journal as a result of entering a young author’s competition. I applied and got my paper chosen, won a prize, and found it useful to meet other people working in other areas. Professional bodies are very good for networking opportunities
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
I would encourage people to choose my field – the environment is crucial for humankind. In terms of being successful, it’s all about perseverance
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
Mentoring was more important for me through my PhD rather than through work. During my PhD I was always working with one or more supervisor who led me through my studies and investigations. Unfortunately at work, probably because I’ve changed jobs a few times, the mentoring hasn’t been consistent. But it’s great when someone shows you the ropes. I sporadically mentor and I do manage a number of projects which means I have to lead people.
How would you define “professionalism”? 
I think ethics really. For me it’s work ethics. Having gone through the process of becoming chartered, ethics is highly emphasized. Keeping clients informed, keeping professional at all times….really the closest I can come to it. Being ethical in general.
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
Probably I would try to get more work experience before having my first child. But that’s a personal choice. Having children can put you a bit behind in relation to your male counterparts. It’s never the right time
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
My contribution to try to adapt to climate change. Drought is becoming more common in Ethiopia. If, through my work, I could help people survive drought and flooding that would make me very happy
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