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Interviews

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

Nuala Caffrey is a research fellow in Computational Physics. Nuala's work involves investigating how useful certain materials could be for applications in the energy industry. 

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Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

My PhD supervisor has had a big influence on my career. After spending time in his research group as an undergraduate, he encouraged me to start working towards a PhD.

Describe a typical day?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

Scientific research is a cycle of a) devising an experiment to find the answer to a particular question, b) running that experiment - whether on a computer or in an experimental laboratory, c) analysing the results and d) publishing your conclusions. A typical day depends on where in this cycle you are and, of course, you could be trying to answer several questions at once! A typical day for me includes reading the relevant literature to see what people already know, using computer code to model the properties of new materials, and writing up my methods and results so that I can communicate them to my colleagues.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

In 2016 I received funding from Science Foundation Ireland to investigate how useful certain materials could be for applications in the energy industry. For example, I am searching for materials which could improve the amount of charge batteries can hold or decrease the amount of time required to charge them. I design computer simulations to answer these questions, and supervise team-members also working on this problem. It is important to have strong time-management skills, good programming skills, excellent written and oral communication skills and the ability to work well both independently and as part of a team.

What are the main challenges?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

It is getting more and more difficult to stay up to date with all the latest research published in my field. It is not unusual for several people to be working on the same problem at the same time and it is important to keep up to date so that you don't waste time repeating the same experiment.

What's cool?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

My favourite thing about my job is the opportunity it gives me to work with talented people from all over the world. Academic conferences can be held anywhere, so I have travelled to the US, Russia, the Caribbean, and all over Europe for work!

What is your education to date?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

  1. Undergraduate degree in Theoretical Physics, TCD
  2. PhD in Computational Physics, TCD

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

The most useful thing I have learned is how to attack a problem logically. We spent a lot of time in school and in college proving maths theorems, and while I do not do that anymore, the highly logical way of thinking eventually sinks in until it becomes second nature! These problem-solving skills are in high demand by employers in all areas, not just in academia.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

On a day-to-day basis, my job has more flexibility than most. The quality and quantity of your research is what matters – not how long you spend in the office. Saying that, it can be easy to spend a lot of time working, particularly when you are close to finally solving a problem, or if you have a deadline approaching.While the job security of an early-career academic researcher is not great (academics generally spend several years on short-term contracts before finding a permanent job), this is somewhat compensated for by the ability to work on problems you find interesting and with the best minds in the world.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

When I filled in my CAO form, I had no idea that "Computational Material Scientist" was a job. I chose my course based only on the fact that physics and maths were my favourite subjects. If you know you love science, but aren't sure exactly what jobs exist, rest assured that people with scientific training will always be in demand by employers.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

While in school, try to get involved in something like Trinity's Walton Club, or in the events run as part of Science or Maths Week. Several universities offer work experience programmes for TY students. In college, it is possible to get work experience in a real research lab, where you could be assigned your own small research problem to work on.

What is your current job title?

Nuala Caffrey, Research Fellow in Computational Physics

Research Fellow in Computational Physics, Trinity College Dublin.

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