Physical and Mathematical Sciences is a broad sector, with many potential career paths for those with qualifications and suitable skillsets, including medical work, engineering, teaching, finance and technology.
The engineering sector itself is made up of a wide range of companies providing a diverse range of products and services.
The most usual route is through taking a degree at a third level college, often following this with a post graduate qualification.
Students can study mechanical engineering at Level 6, 7 or 8 in colleges across Ireland or they can study a general engineering degree then specialise in mechanical engineering in the final year.
Physicists want to understand how the world works, in every detail and at the deepest level. This includes everything from elementary particles, to nuclei, atoms, living cells, solids, liquids, gases, living organisms, the brain, supercomputers, the atmosphere, galaxies and the universe itself.
There is a whole host of career opportunities for mechanical engineering graduates.
A wide range of opportunities exist in both electrical and electronic engineering.
Smart Futures is a government-industry programme providing science, technology, engineering andmaths (STEM) careers information to second-level students, parents, teachers and careers guidance counsellors in Ireland.
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.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
Describe a typical day?
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?
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?
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
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?
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?
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?
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.