Why I was inspired to have a career in Photonics – Interview with Nicola Parry
We recently interviewed Nicola Parry one of the PIADs students about her views and experiences on the course, the photonics industry and being a woman in STEM.
Hi Nicola, who or what inspired you to go into Photonics?
Probably indirectly in the third year of my undergraduate degree, I did a small project on Nano fabrication where I went to my university’s pretty much brand new finished clean room facility. At that point in my degree, I was pretty disenchanted with physics, a lot of what we did felt very far away from the real world and it was rarely related to any actual applications. It was just equations we were solving for an idealised system.
However, when I got to the clean room and saw how they were producing devices that were governed by quantum mechanics and things like that, which was one of the most far-removed modules that I had studied, I thought that was fascinating, the work that they were doing there. Alongside that, I was doing a taught module in Photonics, and while most of this involved equations, nearly everything was linked to a practical application, of which they were many. We studied telecommunication, meta materials, plasmonic devices, and they even mentioned the work they are doing over in Seagate, and their HAMR Technology, and they are main industrial partner of my CDT.
So, it was plain to me that photonics was a dynamic area of physics with a wide range of applications that were all developing in real time. So, this combined with photonics having a clear link with micro and nanofabrication, and the fact that it was a thriving area that also had plenty of Ph.D. opportunities and career opportunities hopefully, made it an obvious choice for my Ph.D.
So, what was it that made you choose a Ph.D. rather than going into the industry after the Undergrad?
After picking out my Master’s project, which I spent in the clean room, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do career-wise, which would have me being involved in commercial nano fabrication projects. And whilst a Ph.D. isn’t necessarily required to do that type of work, I didn’t have enough relevant experience or the ability to even attempt to get that type of job straight away. So, getting a chance to go to a great university, a new city, contribute to some fascinating research, collaborate with a company such as Kelvin Nanotechnology, get the training for the job that I want, and get another qualification – it was an ideal choice, really.
Okay, in terms of the experience you’ve had on the CDT so far, tell me about the experience and how that’s going for you?
Overall, I’d say that PIADS has been a great experience over the past fifteen months. Our first two semesters involve undertaking master’s level taught modules at University Glasgow and Queen’s University Belfast, as well as some additional modules that are unique to PIAD such as cross geographical communication. Once we have completed this part of the course, the first-year cohort are responsible for organizing the annual PIADS conclave, which is a conference designed for students to showcase their work, as well as network with the CDT’s wide academic and industrial network. After that, we start on our research projects and it turns more into the traditional Ph.D. aside from a few additional modules that we complete alongside the work such as management and leadership – it is one that we have coming up. I’d say the cohort aspect of PIADS has been brilliant. Having a group of like-minded Ph.D. students around you at what could be a quite daunting time, starting your Ph.D. was invaluable. The first few months give you a bit of time and prepare you really well for your Ph.D., as opposed to being thrown in at a deep end. Also, the additional modules and the opportunity to plan an academic conference, which is something we would never normally have the opportunity to do, make it a far more well-rounded experience. Whereas with traditional Ph.Ds, you can sometimes get completely consumed in a very niche area of science for 4 years and do little outside of it.
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