Graduate systems engineer: career case study

Systems engineer

Jennifer Pollock, graduate Systems Engineer Selex Galileo.

What got you interested in physics?
I’m not sure what started my interest in physics. My dad is a civil engineer, but that is quite different from physics and my parents don’t have any other background in science. I have always been curious about how things worked - I remember being invited to a make-up party once and my friends thought it was very strange that I was trying to work out exactly what made the make-up shimmery. I was especially fascinated by space and astronomy as a child and my dad has also now become quite interested in astronomy as a result.

What did you study at school and university?
I took science and music at school and had difficulty in choosing between them. When I left school, I went to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester to study euphonium, but I only stayed a month - it wasn’t for me. I then went to Glasgow University and did an MSci in physics and astronomy. I enjoyed that so much that I stayed on at Glasgow to do a PhD in solar physics, where I was modelling particle propagation in the solar atmosphere.

What was your career progression?
After my PhD, I applied for a post doctoral position in Dublin, which I didn’t get, but at the same time, I applied, successfully, for a job with Selex Galileo (Sensors and Airborne Systems) in Edinburgh. Since then I’ve worked in a variety of areas within the company, including advanced projects, image processing, and software development and testing.

What job do you do now?
Although I have a degree in physics my title is graduate systems engineer. A large number of people in my department are physics or maths graduates and the rest are engineering graduates. The job I do is a blurred line between physics and engineering. In fact, I’ve just been put forward for the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award.

What does the work involve day to day?
My latest job involves testing and verifying radar modelling software. I look at the theory behind the model, create tests to verify it, and add more features to improve the software. There is a fair bit of background reading and learning required to do this work. I have recently started a new project involving lasers, in a move away from radar which is what I have worked on up to now. Most of my projects involve working in small groups, which I enjoy.

What benefits does the job provide?
I really enjoy my job, the work is interesting, people are friendly and it’s a relatively informal environment with lots of perks such as flexi-time, good pay, good holidays and employee benefits. The company really makes an effort to value it’s employees.

What personal skills or aptitudes do you need for the job?
Communications skills are really important. You need to get on well with people, because you are surrounded by and working with others all the time. You also need to be scientific in approach, practical, and have an inquiring mind.

What has been the highlight of your career?
I think that getting a university scholarship to fund my PhD would be the highlight so far.

How does your physics training help you in that work?
The work is all about physics when it comes down to it. It’s a similar investigative process, just with different applications. Systems engineering is about bringing things together and is more abstract than some other engineering disciplines.

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