As we reach the final day of Lent term, our next profile celebrates the central role of Teaching Fellows in College life, and we meet one of our newest Teaching Fellows, Dr Alice Cicirello.

There are currently 63 Fellows who hold a teaching position in the College (such as College Lecturer, Tutor, or Director of Studies) or in the University. Our Teaching Fellows come from a wide range of disciplines and cultures and their impact extends far beyond that of the College. For example, Churchill Fellow, Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright OBE, spearheaded the enormously successful STEM SMART University initiative that supports talented students from non-fee paying UK schools and widening participation backgrounds through seventeen months of their A-levels.

Meet Dr Alice Cicirello

Dr Alice Cicirello is a University Assistant Professor in Applied Mechanics at the Cambridge University Engineering Department and joined Churchill College as a Teaching Fellow in September 2023. We met with Alice to find out more about her academic journey and experiences at Churchill.

Alice is Italian, from a small town along the north coast of Sicily called Sant’Agata di Militello. She studied Civil Engineering at the University of Messina and became fascinated by research during her master’s project focused on modelling damages in structural elements. From 2009 to 2014, Alice was part of the Cambridge University Engineering Department and Murray Edwards College; first as a PhD student and Marie Curie Early-Stage Researcher, then as a Research Associate and Bye-Fellow in Engineering. Her research then shifted to building vibro-acoustic models under uncertainty to investigate the performance of cars and satellites and then to modelling shock failures of electronic components. During her PhD she was the social secretary for Murray Edwards MCR and recalls taking advantage of the ‘fantastic Churchill facilities’ when she organised shared events with Churchill MCR!

After her postdoc Alice decided to work in industry, unsure if she would ever return to academia, but the impact of her experiences soon drove her to return. “I was working in a very exciting research environment with fantastic collaborators across multiple sites of SLB, in Paris, Sugar Land, and Stavanger. I expanded my research interest to Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Large-Scale testing. I felt there were many exciting research challenges at the interface between Data, Vibration Modelling and Testing, and Uncertainty that needed to be addressed to improve the performance of structures in Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace and Civil Engineering… and so I came back to academia with a very strong drive to tackle those challenges!”

In 2017 Alice joined the Oxford Engineering Science Department as a Departmental Lecturer in Dynamics and Vibration and Balliol College as a Career Development Fellow in Engineering. There she set up her first laboratory and founded the Data, Vibration and Uncertainty Group with broad applications, ‘from engines to planthoppers!’ In 2020 she moved to TU Delft in the Netherlands as Associate Professor and Section Head in Mechanics and Physics of Structures where she started working on research challenges on wind turbines, bridges, radars and also spiders!

Since joining Churchill College as a Teaching Fellow and the Mechanics, Materials and Design Division in the Cambridge University Engineering Department, Alice has been working on what she describes as “exciting fundamental challenges in integrating physics knowledge with machine learning algorithms to develop strategies that can support decision making in Engineering”. She is part of the Dynamics and Vibration Research Group,  and also joined the Centre for Climate Repair and the Centre for Smart Infrastructures and Construction and credits being part of Churchill College as being a strong enabler for building new connections across different disciplines. In addition to this benefit, Alice is also greatly enjoying the teaching aspect of her role.

As a teaching fellow at Churchill, I have the fantastic opportunity to supervise IB mechanics – a topic I really like! – for our entire cohort of second year Engineering students. It has been great to see how the students are starting to enjoy using the white board to work together on the steps of a challenging question!

Alice also has high praise for the College’s Friday Fish and Chips, the ‘outstanding’ Senior Tutor Rita Monson and the warm welcome she has received from the Fellowship, staff, students and Porters. One particular anecdote reveals just how far some of our Porters have gone to make her feel welcome! “Both my names and surnames are names of fishes in Italian… Every package I have received in College since I joined has a fish carefully drawn on it.. thanks to Mark, one of our fantastic Porters!”

Outside her busy schedule Alice can be found reading fiction books, watching random shows on Netflix, playing the guitar and travelling. We wish her the warmest of welcomes to our Fellowship community.