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Abertay student wins Scottish engineering competition

3 June 2013

An Abertay University engineering student has won the Scottish Final of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Graduate and Student Paper Competition.

Aleksandar S Vasiljevic, a final year Civil Engineering student at Abertay, won the competition based on the presentation he gave about his paper: “A view of poor workmanship on timber-crib retaining walls”.

He was representing the Dundee Area Branch of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), and was up against finalists from the Edinburgh Branch and the Aberdeen Association.

All three were required to give a 15 minute presentation on their paper, and then undergo 15 minutes of gruelling questioning from the judging panel.

Aleksandar’s paper was about timber-crib retaining walls, which are being used more and more frequently as a building material these days because they are better for the environment and enable construction companies to gain low-carbon credentials.

If not constructed with enough care, however, such walls can become unstable which means they are at risk of collapse.

In his presentation, Aleksandar gave examples of where this has happened, and addressed some of the reasons why – suggesting, for example, that it may be because timber can warp and change over time, but also that it may be the result of poor workmanship.

When announcing the winner, the judges praised Aleksandar's passion for his subject, his thorough research and analysis, and the fact that he had passed his paper to the Standing Committee on Structural Safety.

Member of the judging panel, Walter Scott – Design Manager at Angus Council and Chairman of ICE Dundee Area Branch – said:

“The potential seriousness of the issue raised by Aleksandar and the enthusiasm he displayed in seeking fuller recognition of the impact from the use and maintenance of Timber-Crib Retaining Walls, and a resolution to what appear to be inherent failings, was infectious. I doubt anyone who witnessed the presentation will be able to pass another crib wall without thinking about his talk and how stable the wall actually is.”

Speaking about the experience and what it feels like to have won, Aleksandar said:

“Beforehand I didn’t feel too nervous because I knew my presentation content was sufficient, but my nerves did get the better of me once I actually started speaking.

“I’m glad I managed to pull things back though, as I really am passionate about my subject area and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to present a paper about my own work.

“I definitely performed best in the Q&A session at the end. Engineers need to be able to provide concise technical answers, and I know from my previous performances that I’m able to do that well, so that was a huge confidence boost on the night.

“It feels great to be the winner of the ICE Graduate & Student Paper Competition 2013. Entering the competition has already impressed future employers by showcasing my ability for public speaking and a true passion for engineering, which is great.

“I truly encourage prospective civil engineers to take part, as this will allow you to look into an area of interest and deliver your message and findings to like-minded people. I’ve learnt so much from taking part – writing, presenting and then having to answer questions on your work is daunting, but it’s great to be able to say that I have those skills, and to be able to give a really good example of where I’ve used them.”

Programme Tutor for Civil Engineering Dr. Aamir Khokhar, said:

“The Graduate and Student Paper Competition is something we encourage all our students to enter, as it’s a great way for them to develop new skills and gain confidence in speaking about their work.

“Written and verbal skills are essential for students and graduates preparing for their Professional Review, and being able to say you have skills like this, as well as having practical experience of working in the engineering sector under your belt, can really help your CV stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.

“We are delighted that Aleksandar won the Scottish Final – he’s been an exceptional student and it is a well-deserved title. Although he was up against very stiff competition, he spoke passionately and confidently about his subject, which really went in his favour. It's a huge benefit in a competition like this if you can answer every question thrown at you, and Aleksandar dealt with this very well, justifying his answers with his own thoughts as well as providing the required technical evidence.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07922041198 E:

Notes to Editors:

  • Aleksandar was recently accepted onto the MSc in Geotechnical Engineering at Dundee University.
  • He will be working with Muirfield Contracts – a Dundee-based contractor that works across Scotland – over the summer as a site engineer. This company has helped pioneer the new Sandwich degree accreditation for the Civil Engineering course at Abertay University.
  • Aleksandar is the first ever student to achieve this new 'Sandwich' degree title, which he will receive on top of the normal BSc (Hons) title.
  • How the Sandwich degree programme works:

All Civil Engineering students at Abertay must complete a 12 week work placement as part of the second semester of their third year. This work placement is organised by the university.

The Sandwich degree is attained by students who arrange to carry out further placements, during their summer holidays, over and above the requirements of the normal degree.

Students must organise these placements themselves, and the onus is on them to arrange for a course tutor to come out on site and assess their performance.

Two four-month placements must be completed in order to achieve the Sandwich degree title. It is recommended that these are carried out during the summer holidays of the student's third and fourth year of study.

Including the 12 week work placement during the second semester of their third year, students completing the Sandwich degree course will have carried out almost one year of on-the-job training by the time they graduate.

  • The ICE is the UK’s qualifying body for Civil Engineering, and each region within the UK has a number of local branches.
  • Amongst other committees, each branch has a Graduate and Student committee.
  • The Graduate and Student Papers Competition is open to all graduate and student members of the ICE and is held every year to promote and reward excellence in the communication of civil engineering issues and ideas.
  • The Professional Review takes place after four to five years’ experience of working in industry. All graduate engineers must complete their Professional Review in order to become professionally qualified and attain their Chartership.
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