U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
FHWA Works: Careers in Motion
FHWA Works: Employee Spotlight - Jennifer Nicks, PhD, PE
Full Name: Jennifer Nicks, PhD, PE
Title: Research Geotechnical Engineer
Division/Department: Office of Infrastructure Research & Development (R&D)
Location: Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, McLean, VA
What is your current position and how long have you been in this role?
I am a research geotechnical engineer on the Bridge and Foundation Engineering Team within FHWA's Office of Infrastructure R&D, located at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, Virginia. I've been working on this team since starting with FHWA over 5 years ago.
What is your typical workday like?
An exciting part of my job is discovering new or unexpected solutions through hands-on research and collaborations. Typical workdays include a variety of activities, ranging from providing technical assistance, performing experiments in the laboratory, reducing and analyzing data, reviewing design plans and documents, preparing reports and presentations, managing contracts, attending meetings, and conducting site visits to evaluate and refine technologies and processes. Last year, I was featured on FHWA Works: Building Bridges Faster and Better to Save You Time and Money which explains some of the work I do at FHWA.
What has been your biggest accomplishment over the last year?
I am proud of my work at FHWA; the development of research products is a rewarding experience and something I could not accomplish on my own. Collaboration with my team and others within and outside of FHWA is essential to research and development. This past year, a notable accomplishment would be the completion and publication of a research study on "Strength Characterization of Open-Graded Aggregates for Structural Backfills" (FHWA-HRT-15-034). It is satisfying to know that your work is being used across the country to design more cost-effective retaining walls and foundations for our roads and bridges.
Prior to working at FHWA, what was the most unusual or interesting job you've ever had?
Prior to my employment with FHWA, I was a graduate research assistant while working towards my doctorate degree. One of the more exciting projects I participated in during that time was overseeing drilling and sampling operations to investigate cliff erosion at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France. It was an interesting assignment because the drillers did not speak any English, nor did I speak French, so communications were difficult, but with the help of some enlisted tourists, we were able to accomplish the task at hand was completed successfully.
What are your hobbies in your spare time?
Much of my spare time is taken up enjoying experiences around the home and the DC area. I love listening to music, whether it’s going to concerts, watching music videos, or dancing to the tunes. I also like taking pictures to document the different events in my life. Of course, I can never leave geotechnical engineering behind because it’s a fascinating field; down to earth and never boring!
What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned in your career to get you where you are today?
I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) how to effectively apply research findings for use in the real-world. As a researcher, this is a critical element for success. While I tend to follow the story that the data tells, however, there are other influences and politics that affect the successful implementation of research. Navigating from the state-of-the-practice to the state-of-the-art is a challenging but fulfilling experience.
Complete this sentence: "People would be surprised if they knew..."
I was on an episode of "Big, Bigger, Biggest" shown on the Science Channel and the National Geographic Channel providing information on the foundation of the Washington Monument.
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Page last modified on November 17, 2015.