Hollie Wright is a second year Research Engineer based at Heriot-Watt and Renishaw. She has started writing a blog about her journey on the programme, the first post is featured below:-
My name is Hollie and I am a Research Engineer at the CDT for Applied Photonics. My project aim is to develop a technique for measuring distances with lasers, that can be utilised in industrial applications.
Being a Research Engineer can be challenging work. I am conducting cutting-edge research so I am doing things that not many people have done before. If I get stuck on a problem it can be difficult to find the answer. Often my problem hasn’t been written about in textbooks yet! It is therefore important to read recent scientific papers published by other research groups. This helps me keep up to date with the current state of the field and reading how other groups overcame problems can inspire me. I spend time every week reading papers and attending lecturers by other researchers to keep up to date.
My project is split in to several stages. For each stage I will work with my supervisor to plan the experiment. I need to plan the experiment carefully so that the data I collect will reveal information about whatever I am investigating. I will order any equipment I need before I can begin. If it is possible I will build some parts myself. This can involve designing a part to be 3D printed, or building a piece of electronics like a custom cable or detector. I particularly enjoy this aspect of lab work as it allows me to be very hands-on – it is so empowering to see something that I built myself work in my experiment!
Once I have all the parts I need I can set up my experiment. I align the optical elements I have, such as lenses and mirrors, very carefully. The laser beam is only around 1-2mm wide, and is invisible to the human eye. Aligning the beam with the optics is therefore quite challenging and requires a lot of patience. The beam can also cause damage to human eyes, so I must be careful not to look directly at the beam.
Once the experiment has been set-up I can collect and analyse data. The data sets I collect are very large, so I usually write computer code to collect and analyse the data for me. Coding is another challenging part of the job, but it is a great transferrable skill to have and it definitely gets easier with practise! I can spend some time being very frustrated, but it is always worth it for the satisfaction of finally getting my code working! Once the data has been analysed I draw conclusions from my experiments and decide what to do next.
I love working as a Research Engineer. I have fun doing practical work with building equipment and setting-up experiments, and I get to challenge my problem-solving skills by designing experiments, writing code and drawing conclusions from my data. I am particularly grateful to be doing this research as part of the CDT. Having an industrial sponsor means my research is geared towards real-life applications, which makes the work even more rewarding. And meeting other Research Engineers in the CDT has helped me build a network of people who are facing the same challenges as me. I strongly recommend the CDT for Applied Photonics to anyone considering a postgraduate research programme, especially if they are interested in a career in industry.