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Chiara Calastri

I am currently a researcher at the Institute for Transport Studies and Choice Modelling Centre. I use mathematical models to study how people make decisions, how they trade-off between different attributes of different options, and try to predict how their choices will change in the future if something will change in the scenario they’re facing. We are using mathematical tools that allow us to study all sorts of decisions: in transport, you can look at whether people are likely to cycle if more bike lanes are added in their cities or if they will travel less for leisure purposes with the advent of online social networks. But you can apply these methods to health, for example, and understand which treatment patients will choose in given conditions.

My experience at ITS helped in my job and career, of course! I did lots of choice modelling during my PhD, and it served as the basis of what I am doing now. These skills are more and more popular in both academia and in the private sector, and I believe the career opportunities are diverse.

When looking for a course to study, I browsed different courses in several universities at the time, and I had just a vague idea of ITS’s reputation because I did not come from a transport background. I had the feeling it was a good institute that offered many different groups where one could find their own niche. But what really made the difference was the response I got when I first got in touch to look for a potential advisor. Everyone was very helpful and enthusiastic in welcoming new people, and made it feel like the type of environment I’d like to study in.

Passing my Viva in the UK and finishing my PhD is very rewarding. I was also honored to receive recognition of the quality of my work through the Eric Pas dissertation Prize, awarded by the International Association for Travel Behaviour Research, in July 2017. It is presented each year to the best PhD thesis in the field of travel behaviour. I was also glad to be awarded the University of Leeds Partnership award for my teaching activities during my PhD.

My advice to students interested in this course and a career in transport is to be prepared to work hard, always be focused on your research but keep your mind open to new ideas. Also, try to make many contacts, as it is a field where academia and industry are strongly interconnected.