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Research Fellow in Computational Physics, Trinity College Dublin

Nuala Caffrey

Job title
Research Fellow in Computational Physics
Company
Trinity College Dublin
Industry
Academia
Experience
5
Education
  1. Undergraduate degree in Theoretical Physics, TCD
  2. PhD in Computational Physics, TCD
Favourite subjects in school
Maths and Physics
The best thing about my job
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!

You must have an innate desire to understand and make sense of the world. You also should have a critical, logical mind, and the ability to persevere when your experiments or theories are not working out

.  As you go higher up the career ladder, you need to develop good time- and people-management skills, and the ability to communicate your research both to your colleagues and to the general public.

My Main Tasks

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.

Challenges

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.

Who Influenced Me?

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.

Work/Life Balance

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.

Most Useful Aspects of my Eductaion

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.

Useful Work Experience 

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.

Top Tip for Students

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.