I guess I always wanted to be an engineer. I was always taking apart the VCR and remote control cars etc. My Mam used to go mad. Now any time something breaks she is straight on the phone to me to fix it.
I like working as a researcher, it allows me a reasonably flexible working week. I can work when it suits me. I can take a morning off it I need to, or a long weekend. Of course I have to make it up at a later stage but at least I have some flexibility. The important thing is that my work gets done. I work to deadlines rather than fixed hours. As an engineer I love gadgets, and not just things like smartphones and laptops. Working in a university I have access to all kinds of really cool gadgets that cost thousands of euros, like scanning electron microscopes, 3D printers and laser measurement machines. Playing with toys like those makes a smartphone look dull and boring. As an engineer I make a fairly good wage, nothing to get overexcited about but it allows me to live comfortably enough.
What are your main tasks and responsibilities?
Because I work independently of other people, my job is made up of a number of wide-ranging tasks. As a PhD is one big project, the first thing I have to do is break the project down into smaller tasks or topics that will contribute towards the final goal (getting a PhD).
The next thing I do is read all the relevant information I can find about a topic then take this information and summarise it so I can refer to it later. This might lead to an experiment, to prove a theory or propose a new one. Even designing an experiment is a large task. You have to figure out how to prove that the results you get from the experiment are correct. I then compile my results and use that information to form my next task.
What are the main challenges?
Time management. It’s very easy to spend too much time on a subject that might not be that relevant. You have to constantly remind yourself what the end goal is, and ask yourself is what you are doing to achieve it.
I get to design stuff for space and I have launched something on a rocket. That’s cool. And not so cool? Paperwork. It is necessary and useful when you say to yourself “How did I do that again?” but it is definitely not cool.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I am good at maths, I have a good understanding of computers (probably the most useful tool you can have when doing research) and I enjoy what I do.
What is your education to date?
After finishing school I went to college in DIT Bolton Street and did an ordinary degree (level 7) course called Manutronics Automation. It was a combination of Manufacturing technology, electronic engineering, mechanical design and automation. After that I went to work in Intel and then in a small engineering company called Xsil.
During my time in Xsil I went back to college part-time to do an honours degree in Manufacturing Engineering. In my final month finishing my course the company I was working for closed down and left me unemployed. I decided that I wanted to take a design job. While I was finishing my thesis I talked to one of my lecturers who suggested that I look at PhDs as an option, and that’s what I am doing now.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Physics is definitely a good subject to do if you are thinking of going into engineering. In first year in college it was invaluable but we covered much of the Leaving Cert course again. I definitely found it much easier that any of my friends who had not done physics before. When you leave college and start in an engineering company you quickly realise that the most important thing you learned in school and college is not the subjects themselves but rather the ability to problem solve. You find that you have learned how to analyse a problem and come up with a solution. While maths and science are important they are just tools like a spanner or a screwdriver.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Being part of the first and only Irish team to launch an experiment into space on the REXUS sounding rocket (a sounding rocket is one that doesn’t make it into orbit – it goes up and then comes down) . What is your dream job? If you’d asked me a year ago I would have said rocket scientist (just so whenever someone says “its not rocket science” you can say “Well…”) but I have kind of done that already. I guess I would like to continue doing what I am doing but I would really like to get more involved in design for space.
What advice would you give someone considering this job?
Don’t start a PhD in something you don’t love. Working on the same problem for four years is a challenge and if you don’t love the topic of your research it’s an even bigger challenge.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Any engineering related jobs, even at an entry-level position.