046 Young Building Surveyor of the Year with Dr Samantha Organ

Dr Samantha Organ is a Chartered Surveyor and experienced Senior Lecturer with a history of working in higher education. She holds a PhD in energy efficiency, with particular research interests in energy efficiency and conservation, and skills in sustainable development and environmental awareness.

Samantha is a member of the RICS Matrics UK Board, and the Winner of Young Building Surveyor of the Year 2020. She was a Finalist of Women of the Future Awards 2019, was shortlisted for Young Surveyor of the Year Award 2018, and for UWE SU Outstanding Teaching Award 2019. She was Nominated for The National Trust Playing Your Part Award 2018 and 2019.

Samantha Organ has successfully integrated her professional expertise in surveying with the pursuit of academic interests. She is a Doctor of Philosophy, and she shares some details about her PhD research.

“For my PhD I chose the topic of motivations for energy efficiency. That was because I saw a gap in the research, and in the professional literature as well. We don’t know a huge amount about what motivates people to improve their homes. I did my PhD part time, alongside working. You usually do it several years, and I did it in four and a half, which is pretty quick for a part timer. It was an interesting experience, you get to learn more about yourself, as well as the actual subject you’re studying,” Samantha says.

So what is it that drives people to have energy efficient homes? Here are some of Sam’s findings.

“People are genuinely motivated to improve things, whether that’s for reducing energy bills, or because they’re worried about the environment, they’re trying to improve their comfort or comfort of their family. There are lots of different elements to this, and if we can frame it in such a way that we inspire people to change the energy efficiency performance of their buildings by tapping into their multiple spatial motivations, it can really help. Otherwise people just don’t act. We need to understand that people don’t like change, we favour the status quo. We always overestimate potential losses and underestimate potential gains, and it’s called Prospect Theory. As soon as we understand that, it makes it much easier to understand the customer in terms of improving the energy efficiency of their home. They don’t want people in their homes messing things up. They would rather have a hassle free life. My grandma’s a classic example. She’s 94, she could have more loft insulation, but she doesn’t want any new boilers or anything, because it means disruption for her,” Sam explains.

Lecturing and Practicing Surveying

After spending some time abroad, and then working at a hospital for NHS, Samantha decided to jump into academia and commit half of her time to lecturing and research, and the other half to practical surveying.   

“I worked as a research assistant for a number of years, and eventually I did some ad hoc lecturing, so that’s how I got into lecturing. From there I became a PhD student, and once I got my PhD, I knew that I wanted to do some practical surveying. The company that gave me that opportunity was the National Trust. It was a part time role, and I’ve been there almost four years. I started as a building surveyor, and I was promoted 18 months ago to Senior Building Surveyor, out of other competitors for the title. I literally terrorised the Cotswolds as a surveyor to go around all the different properties, not just buildings and mansions, but things like reservoirs and dams, which are particularly important. If those dams would break, that would be high risk to human life. So you’re constantly learning new things outside of university. I’ve worked with engineers external to the organisation, I’ve done a lot of reading, and I’m a member of the British Dam Society now.”

When asked how the pandemic affected her work at the university, Samantha admits that it has been very challenging and that she is concerned for her students.

“It’s been tough. Since things have started changing in March, it’s been a lot more work, and being part-time, that’s been a challenge. Mental health is a bit of a dirty secret in academia. I’ve been trying to stay positive throughout this, but occasionally it raises its ugly head and it’s taking its toll. I think universities are doing an amazing job in trying to support people, but you can’t keep on overloading your staff with more and more work. There’s a difference between being clear with the guidance and the changing goalposts, which is constant with COVID, but also recognising that it’s going to take its toll physically and mentally on people. When it comes to students, I’ve noticed a big difference. I teach from the first year all the way through to a PhD. I’ve noticed that the lack of social interaction is having a big impact, and the grades when they come in are not as strong as I would normally see them at this point. I suspect there’s less peer to peer learning going on. The support services within the university are inundated, and they’re taking longer to get back to students. LionHeart has, for the first time, started offering services for students, even though they are so busy themselves at the moment with the pandemic. I’m really proud of what they’re doing.”

Samantha Organ: RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year 2020

Samantha is the winner of RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year in the Building Surveying Category for 2020. It’s particularly significant that she stood for her own visibility and self-nominated for the award.

“I had made it onto the shortlist in 2018, and I wasn’t going to do it again. But then I was on furlough, and I was going through a hard time last year. I’ve thought if the worst case scenario happens, and I’m made redundant, then I’m gonna need this. So that was the push for me, and I nominated myself. I wasn’t expecting to win at all, but I also thought that I owed it to not just to myself, but also to my students, and all of those people who say you can self nominate, and you need to champion the work you do. It’s not just the day job, it’s everything we do. I think we should be less critical about blowing our own trumpets and be maybe a little bit more American in that sense, because surveyors are terrible at singing their successes. So if we can do that, and we can start promoting what we do, then we can start making more of a reputation amongst schools as a great career option. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, they are the go-to professions. Why isn’t surveying as well, when it’s such an interesting and diverse profession? On the small scale, it was me possibly needing  this, but on the grand scheme of things, it’s about promoting the profession through my network,” Samantha concludes.

Connect with Dr Samantha Organ