Thomas Scheler, a PhD student in the Extreme Conditions group of the Institute for Condensed Matter, describes his placement at Edinburgh Instruments Ltd.
My appetite to find out more about working in industrial research was whetted by the industrial associates’ talks at last year’s careers event. This led to me taking a 7-week break from my PhD earlier this year, to work in the R&D division of Edinburgh Instruments Ltd, a medium‐sized company producing and developing, amongst other things, fluorescence spectrometers.
During my placement I was fully integrated into the daily routine and worked on developing benchmark tests for novel grating spectrometers – not dissimilar from the instruments I have been using in my PhD.
Commercial v. PhD
The differences from my PhD work that struck me were the shorter deadlines and consideration of consumer interests. Like other students, I am used to deadlines in my PhD for submitting conference abstracts, research proposals and project reports. I feel, however, that the potential consequences if I ever failed to meet these would largely be confined to me, whereas failing to meet a deadline in a company, such as delivering a product late, would be much more serious.
The focus of my work at Edinburgh Instruments was on someone else’s (ultimately a customer’s) project and delivering a fully working product, which contrasts with the longer term aims and greater freedom of my PhD. This meant spending much more time than I anticipated on user interfaces and ergonomics, things that might be considered a distraction from ‘the science’ in my PhD.
"The placement taught me a lot and I feel much better informed about the career decisions I will need to make. I strongly recommend a similar experience to other students." Thomas Scheler
I worked as part of a team of many highly-skilled individuals, most of whom had a university background, most with PhDs and some having completed postdoctoral positions before moving to industry. I enjoyed working in their team and appreciate how well integrated they made me feel. Previously, I had only experienced life in an academic environment and at national laboratories.
The Scottish Doctoral Training Centre in Condensed Matter Physics
Thomas is a student of The Scottish Doctoral Training Centre in Condensed Matter Physics, a tri-institutional collaboration between the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt that provides international-level doctoral training in the core discipline of condensed matter physics. It was established in December 2008 with generous funding from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and offers more than ten 4-year PhD fully funded studentships per annum. The first cohort of students arrived in September 2009.
Students perform a PhD research project, take graduate level courses, participate in summer schools, conferences and workshops, and receive skills training relevant to their future careers. The Centre aspires to produce rounded graduates equipped to succeed in research, academia and a wide range of industries and businesses.