About CSci

  • Dr John McCullough
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Dr John McCullough
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Energy Institute
First Degree: 
Diploma in Fuel
Consulting Engineer and Scientist
Works For: 
Dipolma in Fuel, MSc and PhD Fuel Technology
Pet Hates: 
Poorly written English
Burning Ambition: 
No longer have one
I would like to have a time machine so that I could visit Dublin on 16th June 1904
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A journalist. At school my best subject was English and I wasn’t particularly good at science and maths
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I started work as an apprentice engineer and things just happened from there. I left school at the age of 15 because I didn’t enjoy school or fit in. I worked as an apprentice engineer at a company that my father worked for, studying engineering. It was necessity. I hadn’t done any training as journalist, but I had this opportunity to do something in engineering…and it was a way to learn. It took me a few years to take to it
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
The forensic aspect, by which I mean “court”. The term forensic is often mistakenly associated with science, but it means court. I enjoy the process of having to come up with evidence to defend people, the challenge of being cross-examined, and the knowledge that I can and sometimes do influence the course of justice. I believe that’s important. Lots of people are wrongly accused of crimes. If there’s no defence offered then they would suffer. As I’m an independent expert engineer I tend to be involved in the defence. Prosecution evidence comes from the crime whereas defence evidence tends to come from private sector. That’s not the case with the large civil litigation cases – with those I could be on the side of the claimant or the defence
What would you change? 
No major thing that springs to mind. I think that’s a reflection of the fact that I’m just over 60 and I’ve come to accept my life. I’m pretty laid back and I don’t get excited about much. I accept things as they are and go with the flow
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I got a technical certificate at age 15. I studied on a part-time basis until I was 25
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
I did a diploma in Fuel at the University of the West, Scotland
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I became a full-time student and did a Masters of Science degree in Fuel Technology over a full calendar year at Portsmouth University. I went back to work briefly but became pretty dissatisfied. I applied for a got a grant for a PhD from the EPSRC. Even though my parents were British, I very nearly didn’t get the grant because the research council said my parents had to live in Great Britain and they lived in Northern Ireland. I made such a nuisance of myself they finally relented and gave me a grant to go the university of my choice. I applied to two or three universities and they all jumped at the chance to take me because the grant money came with me. I chose Portsmouth because it gave me the opportunity to work with the electricity generating board (now privatised as National Power). I had a chance to work in their laboratories, visit power stations, and carry out experiments in power stations. It appealed to me that I wouldn’t be lab-based – i.e. that I could go out and do tests at a real engineering plant. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity in a more formal academic environment.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
As a forensic engineer and scientist or expert witness. I tell people it’s usually interesting but not always. I tend not to go any further than that. I do not discuss cases that I’m working on unless they have been reported in the press. People probably do realize I’m holding back – whether they find that interesting or not I don’t know.
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
Establishing evidence and assisting justice. The science that’s cutting edge tends to involve thermodynamics, combustion, and fracture mechanics. We cover a diverse range of engineering disciplines. I’m a chartered mechanical engineer and a fellow of Energy Institute.
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
The opportunity to prevent miscarriages of justice and influence the course of justice, the extent of which varies from case to case
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
Discovering new evidence or being cross-examined in court
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I worked as an engineer in Northern Ireland, then Scotland and England, and have had a number of engineering appointments at a number of levels. I joined a firm of consulting engineers as a partner, and when it became a company I became the director. Cadogans is a small company of about 40, but it does work internationally. After a few years, I became Managing Director, and then Chairman. At one time I was the majority shareholder. On turning 60 I stepped down from the Board to become Principal Consultant to the company. I don’t work 5 days a week unless I have to…I try to keep it to about three or four. Age isn’t a disadvantage until you’re 70. I have another 10 years left to continue to practice, but not to the extent that I have done. I do civil litigation and arbitration involving big money vs. big money and one multinational suing another (power station, process plant that doesn’t work etc.) We also do criminal work. Although not representative, some examples of well-known cases I’ve worked on include: 1. The Cavendish Mill gas explosion (Manchester 2001) which involved a fatality in a block of flats after a gas leak. I prepared scientific evidence for the defense. 2. Dreamspace trial. In 2006, a large inflatable public art installation and walk-through sensory space in County Durham tore free from its moorings, flying into the air with 30 people inside, killing two women and injuring many. The designer, artist Maurice Agis, was charged with manslaughter. I took evidence from Health & Safety labs and prepared evidence for the defense, who were then able to ask very damaging questions of the prosecution and the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. I looked at things like the wind loading on the structure and the ropes. Part of the evidence I gave was meteorological – the fact that because the sun doesn’t heat the Earth evenly you get hot spots and air lifting up called thermals, which could have started the lift of the structure.3. A Shetland Islands accident involving a fatality due to an exploding aerosol where a young man was in a house being built and an aerosol containing foam use to fill cavities in buildings exploded and ruptured his heart. I gave scientific evidence for the inquiry and looked a number of scientific and engineering factors like the strength of the container, the pressure of compressed energy within it…etc.
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
At the practice we cover mechanical, electrical, civil and structural engineering, and metallurgy. If we want some chemical analyses done we employ an accredited lab or university. We used Professor Keith Miller a lot for fractured mechanics, a field which is changing rapidly. For that kind of thing we go to a university
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
This question is difficult to answer; an experienced expert witness can charge about £200 per hour, but unless self employed you would not get all of that
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
There will always be civil litigation, criminal proceedings and arbitrations; so, there will always be plenty to do. When I started doing this there were few computers around, that’s all changed now. Judges and solicitors and barristers are up to speed IT-wise. What the future holds I can’t be sure. The justice system is trying to reduce the number of disputes it handles, but they will always occur. The civil procedure rules which came in 1999 did change things, and there was a short hiatus/pause in civil litigation, but it’s come back again. Also there are arbitrations that take place day in and day out all over the world which confidential, so people aren’t aware they are happening. The International Resolution Centre in Fleet Street London is always busy. There will always be disputes, there will always criminal activity, and there will always be work. The competition in this field tends to be on a person’s suitability to win or mitigate damages rather than on fees/rates
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
The nature of some of the cases. Some times one starts off thinking that the problem is of a mechanical nature, but once you’re into the case you find it’s not. It could be corrosion for example, which is chemical. Some of the gas explosions that I’ve investigated have been very interesting to work out what’s happened. You’re working backwards from the damage that’s been done and the victim’s injuries. From that you work backwards and try to establish the cause
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
To be appointed regularly on national and international cases. I’m well-known and established within my field
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
Yes. I’ve been working three to four days a week for a year now. But I used to work very long hours especially during a trial. In previous years I used to spend at least 6 weeks in court a year
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
They know what I do and that it is usually interesting; however, because of its confidential nature I rarely discuss actual cases
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Reading, opera, cycling, bird watching and when younger mountaineering
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I am also a Chartered Engineer and have been for about 30 years. I applied for CSci because it is easier for the public to accept that a scientist is in involved in forensic work; also, some of my cases are more scientific than what is commonly perceived as engineering
What is the value of professional bodies? 
Accrediting practitioners, maintaining standards and codes of practice
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
It is of paramount importance and the process is sound. I attend seminars, several each year (usually to do with law and engineering law in particular, usually of a legal kind). I do internet research on scientific subjects. I also read journals and I used to do a bit of teaching (lecture part time at university). I provide in-house training to colleagues. I mostly do research into scientific or engineering issues that I’m having to deal with by way of evidence
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Forensic and expert witness work usually requires an established reputation; so, become a good scientist or engineer first to get to first base
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
It is important to pass knowledge and guidance to younger colleagues as it was passed to me when I was younger. If my colleagues are about to give evidence we will have a mock cross-examination sitting around a table. The person who is about to give evidence will be at one end of table, and I’ll be at the other end. I’ve been cross-examined so many times I have a feel for what will be asked. We ask as many difficult questions as possible to try and discredit him and prepare him for the real try
How would you define “professionalism”? 
It is a word I do not like and try not to use. I suppose it means competence, diligence and integrity
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
Probably nothing. My career was never really planned, certainly not in the early days. I didn’t have a big plan or ambition…I just wanted to do reasonably well and earn sufficient money
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
That I influenced the course of justice
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