Matthew Gore, PhD, PE
Project Geotechnical Engineer
Golder Associates Inc. USA (a member of WSP)
What do you do in the underground construction industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
For the last five years, I have been a project geotechnical engineer at Golder Associates (a member of WSP). I perform a variety of geotechnical/geological engineering tasks, including underground construction in soil and rock for the mining, commercial and government sectors. My position places me primarily as a technical designer and project manager for these types of projects. The design work has included tunnel liner design, rock bolt design, room and pillar design, tunnel/drift entry stability, and numerical modeling of drift and tunnel conditions. I have been in the geotechnical consulting industry for over nine years and have been working on underground projects throughout this period.
How did you get into the industry, and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Back when I was working in Philadelphia for Schnabel Engineering, I had my first experience in underground construction developing a monitoring program for the 2nd Avenue Subway Tunnel project in New York. There were also several projects involving deep excavation supports throughout the Northeast. These projects piqued my interest because of the combination of geotechnical and structural engineering (or as Schnabel termed it, “geostructural engineering”). After joining Golder, the local leadership in St. Louis provided me with more opportunities. My first project included evaluating an old mine drift for a client interested in using the feature as a dewatering tunnel. It challenged me to reach outside my comfort zone (soils) and learn/implement rock mechanics on the fly. The project was unique and a lot of fun. As I became more involved with underground construction, I found enjoyment in how each project was different. Some of the problems were solved by technical means, while others were solved with an artistic angle, interpreting what was observed and using experience/knowledge to put together a solution. This shifting of techniques provided an interesting variety to my work.
What is it like to work as an engineer on underground projects?
For me, there is excitement and pride when I work on an underground project knowing that my design is holding back the forces of the earth (large overburden/field stresses, water pressures, and contributing structural stresses). It is also a lot of fun when you get to go underground and see your work in action. I compare the experience to when I was a kid and got to enter a cave, staring in awe as the rock features held back the surrounding ground. The big difference is that as an engineer, my design is holding the ground back instead of a feat of nature. To me, that is very satisfying and rewarding.
What professional achievements have defined you and made you proud?
This question led me to thinking about my academic achievements (three degrees in civil/geotechnical engineering), my dissertation on repurposing a mine waste, and passing the PE exam. But while I take great pride in these achievements and would encourage anyone interested in these pursuits to chase them with maximum effort, my biggest sense of pride right now comes from teaching at a local university. Teaching has been immensely rewarding. It challenges me in many ways, leading to growth. And it has also taught me a great deal about communicating, listening, and appreciating different perspectives.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced, and how have they been meaningful?
I think one of the biggest challenges I have faced as an engineer is maintaining a work/life balance. There are many times in my career I have found myself working long hours. I admit that I like putting my head down and cranking on a problem, or getting boots under the ground and be on a construction site. There is enjoyment in what I do, as I find fulfillment in solving problems and creating solutions, and there is also pride in making deadlines. But I have learned that I must set aside time for myself and keep to it, whether to spend time with family and friends or just get in some exercise. It is something that I work on every day and have made a priority in my life.
What do you hope the future holds for yourself and for the industry?
It is an exciting time to be working in the underground industry. The industry continues to grow with urban communities moving infrastructure underground to conserve space, energy and resources; mining companies heading to more underground activities to avoid surface environmental regulations; and commercial/industrial companies continuing to find new uses for former mines/underground structures, such as for storage or data centers. I hope this growth continues. If it does, I can remain a very busy engineer. This also means we will need more people trained for the industry, and I am excited to be serving as a teacher.
What is your advice to a student looking to enter the underground field?
First, surround yourself with experienced, generous people who are willing to share their knowledge (this includes being involved with professional societies and speaking up/asking questions). Second, get as much exposure to different types of projects, experiences and designs as you can. Third, be willing to take measured/calculated risks while not being too hard on yourself when mistakes happen (because no one is perfect). Fourth, remember to enjoy life and have a good work/life balance. Last, but definitely not least, read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”!