Professor Elizabeth Laycock

Tell us about your contribution that has been recognised through the professorship.

I was awarded a professorship as a result of my outstanding contribution to External and Professional Engagement (E&PE) and significant contribution to Teaching and Learning (T&L) and Research and Innovation (R&I).

Tell us a bit about your career story so far.

I started working at Sheffield Hallam as an associate lecturer, while undertaking PhD research at the University of Sheffield, in 1994. I then became a research assistant in 1996 and followed this by becoming a full-time member of academic staff in 1997. My research and consultancy work centred on the durability and performance of construction materials. At one end of the spectrum my research involves conservation work (two examples being Truro Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament) and at the other end on the feasibility of potentially recycling almost 1km of masonry railway viaduct. The published paper on this research won the ICE Howard Medal in 2017.

I currently advise on CEN/TC WG3 (evaluation of methods and products for conservation works) and have been part of the committee writing several European standards on conservation works. I am a serving member on the Historic England Historic Estate Conservation Committee (HECC), which reports on the care of the ‘historic chattels’ (predominantly buildings), included in the National Collection.

My teaching role is just as important to me as the research and consultancy. I have been nominated as an ‘Inspirational Teacher’ every year since 2011, the highlight of which was winning the university award in 2013. I was lead author of a textbook for undergraduate dissertation students, in the built environment disciplines. I’ve led on an initiative to encourage students to share their research and, as editor in chief of the student journal BERT (Built Environment Research Transactions) since 2009, have overseen production of over 18 editions.

What does it mean personally to you to be a professor at Sheffield Hallam? What do you value about it?

At the time of my completing my doctorate, not one member of my family had ever had any post-compulsory education (mum later did an HNC in Child Care and Education). I never imagined I would become a professor, and certainly didn’t join Hallam with this aspiration. When I was first awarded the personal chair, I was almost overpowered by imposter syndrome. This has taken a lot for me to conquer and probably isn’t spoken about as much as it could be, or even should be, particularly for female professors. I also have mental health problems, so ironically the promotion was initially quite stressful. Now the dust has settled I feel much more comfortable in my role. I am very honoured to have been recognised for my work and hope to inspire and support younger members of staff, continue to support my students and be part of the Hallam team.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some career advice, what would it be?

My main advice to myself would be to record career successes and archive evidence of these – It is so easy to forget what you have achieved over the years.

I would tell younger me that the hard work will be worth it, but to talk to senior colleagues about development opportunities rather than endeavouring to resolve any difficulties in isolation.

I would encourage past me to actively seek out a mentor and formalise a career plan at a much earlier stage.

What’s next? Tell us about how you want to further develop your contribution.

My ongoing contribution will be to:

  • Support and mentor colleagues in their career development
  • Develop new strands of research and increase external collaboration
  • Deliver findings on ongoing work which will have a real-life impact on the historic built environment.

I’m very excited about my current research work which is building on the Historic England ‘Damp Towers work’ remediation of the issue of penetrating damp into historic towers. The new work investigates the performance of historic masonry in flood conditions and seeks to inform sustainable conservation. I am hoping that this will have an impact by providing evidence which stops inappropriate repairs which could cause long-term damage to an increasing number of historic buildings, as the climate changes.