- What Do PhDs Do?
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- Steve, development engineer, PhD in engineering
Steve, development engineer, PhD in engineering
Occupation: Development Engineer
PhD subject: Engineering
Why did you do a PhD?
There was no planning involved. Having spent 4 years doing my degree (I had to do a foundation year for the degree as I didn’t have A-Level physics -again no planning) I felt that my degree had not given me a significant advantage in the job market and left me feeling largely unsatisfied with higher education. There were too many people coming out of University with degrees.
There was a large aspect of looking for a challenge, the question was “Can I do it?”. My mentor/tutor for my Undergraduate degree believed that it was worth doing, and he became my supervisor for my PhD at Aberdeen (as he moved jobs).
A large number of my brother’s friends were doing PhDs. All of them appeared to enjoy what they were doing and being paid (albeit not much) to learn, train and get a qualification.
Describe your current job briefly:
We develop and supply engineering analysis software to engineering companies around the world. The UK office acts as an immediate contact point for our customers. This could be for sales, technical support and advice, and consultancy project activities. I work as part of the services team which delivers consultancy projects to our customers. These are varied in nature, but could involve developing graphical user interfaces, analysis techniques and capabilities. We also are sometimes involved in technical support problems for our customers. My job involves writing computer programs, a little maths with an engineering bias, problem solving, writing project scopes and reports, and dealing with customers through the duration of the project.
Why did you decide in this career?
That implies there was some form of planning involved again. After my PhD I worked for a consultancy company in Stoke that was selling its services (including engineering analysis) to the ceramics industry. The ceramics companies did not believe that simulation and analysis was particularly beneficial and would not invest in it. There were not sufficient like minded people from which to learn or bounce ideas off (too many chemists (sorry!) which are important in the ceramics industry and not enough engineers/analysts/designers). From there I joined ABAQUS. The people here have a similar background to myself (engineering, stress analysis and a few numbers).
Both jobs appeared suitable for a person with my background. It’s not really a career I decided upon, more of one that has unfolded since I finished my first degree. The only thing that I was probably looking for was a job in a high tech sector.
What was your job search strategy and how were you recruited?
My supervisor put the advert for the first job on my desk and said I should apply for it. I wrote a speculative letter my current job. I had, however, met the Manager before in a business context.
Why do you think you got the job?
I had the right background of numerical techniques and stress analysis, but I had never used this particular software before I joined the Company.
My supervisor is known in the industry.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
Yes and no. The subject matter is very esoteric and concerns a very narrow field of research. It is also very unlikely that it will have any industrial application, but provided some interesting research into material behaviour. So in this respect I may have been better off spending three years working in an industrial environment.
However, it did fill in the missing blanks from my Undergraduate Degree. It gave me a thorough understanding of materials and continuum mechanics; to a level above most people who would have been applying for similar jobs. This is the thing that helped me most. It was not the specifics of the research that helped, more the total acquired information, techniques and skills.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
Try and ensure that an industrial party is involved with the work. This will ensure that there could be some industrial relevance to the work. Use as many of the current industrial tools as possible (whether these are software programs or testing apparatus). Get as much formal training as possible, including things that may not be immediately relevant to the PhD if possible.
It all depends on what a PhD is designed to achieve. Is it purely for research purposes and pushing the boundaries of science and our understanding? Or is it to help industry out with their current problems? It is cheaper for a Company to come to a University and sponsor a student than it would be for them to undertake the problem solving for themselves. TCS schemes may develop more useful skills for people to use in industry.