James Howard | Smart Futures

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James Howard
James Howard works as a Senior R&D Engineer. His job involves conducting experiments, analysing data and interpreting results.
Job title
Senior R&D Engineer
Medical/Life Sciences

Describe a typical day in your role.

It can vary greatly from day to day. Some days may involve project meetings, or working on project plans/reports, but the best days for me are when I get to work on technical problems. This can be setting up test rigs, conducting experiments or even analysing data and trying to understand the results.


What are your main tasks right now?

We are currently in the process of bringing an instrument from a proof-of-concept stage to a commercial product for launch. I am responsible for the development of one of the primary sub-systems. Extensive experimentation is necessary to understand the technology in detail so that it can be repeatably manufactured and optimised to deliver constant levels of performance. Experimental research skills obtained during my PhD have been invaluable during my time with BD. 


What’s your favourite thing about your job?

In work we are given the freedom to manage our own time and work load on a day to day basis. Project deliverables must be completed within agreed time frames, but you are given the responsibility to drive your own work and make your own decisions. There is also a strong emphasis put on personal development and you are always encouraged to upskill and expand your knowledge.


What are the biggest challenges you face?

The main challenge of research and development is discovering solutions for unique technical challenges where no existing answers are readily available.


Who or what has most influenced your career direction?

I have always been a very big advocate of the philosophy: “if you enjoy doing something, keep doing it”.


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

BD strongly encourages a strong work/life balance. People are not over loaded with work beyond their capacity and/or ability and initiatives are constantly being ran to promote health awareness and encouraging employees to stay active.


What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path? What was your favourite?

I studied English, Irish, maths, engineering, technical graphics, physics, accounting and French. I really enjoyed the technical subjects (engineering, maths, technical graphics), hence, my pursuit of Engineering as a career.


What is your education to date?

I studied Mechanical Engineering, B.Eng, in the University of Limerick. I then went on to complete a PhD, specialising in multi-phase fluid mechanics and heat transfer.


What aspects of your education/experience to-date have proven the most useful for your job today?

My undergraduate course in college gave me a very good foundation on the basic aspects of engineering but the additional knowledge and skills acquired during my postgraduate work has been invaluable in my career development to date. I also had the opportunity to go on cooperative placement as part of my undergraduate course in UL which was very beneficial as it gave me early exposure to a real engineering workplace.


What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

It is a good career for people with a natural curiosity of how things work and who have a desire to always find solutions to problems. Engineering attracts people who are very practical and hands on, but it is also very beneficial if you like maths or physics. A degree in engineering is necessary to start in the field but any additional qualifications or experience will only benefit you as you never stop learning. 


What kinds of work experience would help someone looking for a position similar to yours?

Any opportunity that gives you exposure to professionals in the field is greatly beneficial. Transition year placements, cooperative experience in college, summer internships are very good ways of getting experience and building contacts.


Engineering is a good career for people with a natural curiosity of how things work and who have a desire to always find solutions to problems