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Derek Morris, 1978, aged 25

Now: Lecturer and director of the Center for Infrastructure Engineering at the Engineering Department at Texas A&M University in College Station (just north of Houston).

Qualifications: PhD, P Eng and member of the main UK, Canadian and US societies.

Winning paper: Back-calculation of dynamic soil modulus values with depth from surface seismic refraction studies. The comparison was actually remarkably good (I subsequently discovered that a German research student had produced an analytic result on something similar at about the same time at Karlsruhe).

Then: Research student in the soils group at Cambridge.

Afterwards: After completing my PhD, I spent a brief spell as a structural engineer before reverting to geotechnics. I have worked primarily in academia - there isn't that much point in having a PhD otherwise - first in Canada and then in the US. I did spend four years in the early 1980s working on the geotechnical aspects of the mining industry in Western Canada, which at that time was going through a tremendous boom.

Professional highs: Winning the Cooling Prize, since at the time it was certainly one of the more prestigious prizes for a young engineer (and presumably it still is). More recently I spent a year in Europe on a Fulbright Fellowship - which within reason meant doing more or less whatever I liked.

On the downside: Seeing the collapse of the mining industry in Western Canada in the mid-1980s was a fairly substantial low, as this took a lot of the smaller geotechnical and civil engineering firms with it. For me it was probably a good thing, since it prompted me back into academia.

Did winning have an impact on your career? Not really, although I still list it on my resume. Once in a blue moon I still receive some comment about the content of the paper.

How did you spend the prize money? It wasn't very much, so it just ended up in the general pot. I did go to Greece right after finishing my degree, so I suppose the prize in some small way contributed to a well-deserved holiday.

Anecdotes: Recollections of the actual competition are not especially pleasurable, as it was held in Glasgow in February on a bleak day full of mist and greyness. However, given recent articles in GE, it is topical to mention that 'c' and 'phi' are still very much ingrained in the US teaching of soil mechanics.

A colleague and fellow graduate of the Cambridge soils group told me the sad tale of when he tried to introduce some critical state soil mechanics into his undergraduate lectures. He was promptly accused of trying to be a smart-alec, and hauled over the coals by his department head, who informed him in no uncertain terms that he had been hired to teach soil mechanics by the book - which of course meant Terzaghi and Peck - and that either he was going to teach it that way, or not at all!

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