Fiona Crawford


Fiona Crawford



PhD topic:

Understanding travel time reliability on road networks using emerging data sources and dynamical models


Professor David Watling and Dr Richard Connors

What are you researching for your PhD and what motivates you to study this area?

I am exploring travel time reliability by studying demand and capacity variability on the road network using data from Bluetooth sensors. This research area gives me the opportunity to develop mathematical models, investigate real data, study behavioural aspects (including attitude to risk, memory and response to change) as well as undertaking research which is of practical interest.

Why did you decide to study at ITS?

Prior to starting my PhD I was taking annual leave from work to study Masters modules at ITS. Originally I was attracted to ITS as the whole institute is dedicated to transport, as opposed to being part of another department (for example Engineering). My employer also recommended ITS due to its reputation. From my first visit to ITS I was impressed by the

enthusiasm and energy from staff and students and therefore I relocated to Leeds in order to undertake my PhD here.

What did you do before you were a PhD student?

After gaining my undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Cardiff University I spent a number of years trying obvious career choices for a maths graduate, including working for the Office for National Statistics and the National Audit Office. Although in the latter job I found that accountancy was not for me, auditing government departments did inspire me to study for a Masters in Social Research Methods (Social Policy) at Durham University. I then started working as a researcher for a sustainable transport charity (Sustrans) and quickly developed a passion for transportation research.

How would you describe the experience of being a PhD student?

It is a really exciting time. It’s an opportunity to challenge yourself more than you ever thought that you could, both in your thinking and your commitment. It’s a constant battle against the exponentially increasing list of things you feel you should know about, but if you have a genuine interest in your research area, it is a rare opportunity to be excited about what you are going to do every day.

What kind of support do you get?

ITS has provided an impressive amount of support, including dedicated administration and personal tutor support. I have two great supervisors who are enthusiastic, generous with their time and always have helpful questions and suggestions. I also get a lot of support from the other PhD students, including the five other PhD students that I share an office with and the wider group through lunchtime chats in the coffee room, regular social events and writing group sessions.

How are you financing your studies?

Industrial CASE studentship funded by the EPSRC and the Highways Agency.

What do you aim to do once you’ve completed your PhD?
I don’t have a plan yet, but I definitely want to continue undertaking transportation research, hopefully in academia.

Do you have any advice for prospective PhD students?

Deciding to undertake a PhD is not a decision to be taken lightly – it is a huge commitment in terms of time and energy. If you are excited enough about a research area that you want to spend three years of your life looking at it, then seek out the most suitable supervisors and funding for you. On starting your PhD, work out what works for you in terms of a working pattern and make the most of all of the opportunities that come your way, for example presenting your work and attending conferences.