Professor Al-Tabbaa graduated from Bristol University in Civil Engineering and obtained an MPhil and PhD degrees in Soil Mechanics from Cambridge University working on the permeability and stress-strain response of speswhite kaolin clay both experimentally and numerically.

She worked as a geotechnical engineer with Ove Arup & Partners Consulting Engineers in their London and Nottingham Offices for just over three years and was involved in the geotechnical design and construction aspects of a number of projects including Embankment Place and Ludgate Railways Works in the centre of London and Corby and Peterborough power stations.

She started her academic career as a lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Birmingham and in 1997 returned to Cambridge University as a University Lecturer, now Professor in Civil Engineering. She is a fellow of Sidney Sussex College. She is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

She was a member of the British Geotechnical Association Executive Committee (2001-2004), a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers Geotechnical Engineering Advisory Panel (2003-2005), Ground Improvement Advisory Panel (2007-2014). She was awarded the Institution of Civil Engineers Reed and Mallik Medal in 2003 for her paper on the five-year soil mixing treatment work at the West Drayton site near Heathrow Airport.

She is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the ASCE Materials in Civil Engineering, Panel Member of the ERC Consolidator Grant Panel, the UK representative on the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering Technical Committee TC211 on Ground Improvement, the UK representative on the EU COST Action CA15202 - SARCOS: Self-healing as Preventative Repair of Concrete Structures, member of the new RILEM Technical Committee SHE: Self-healing Concrete: Efficiency and Evaluation and a member of the World Economic Forum Network.