Career Profiles: Colm Coughlan

1. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
Deciding to study physics in college. Publishing my first papers and getting a PhD.

2. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
Honestly, the people who wrote the books and documentaries about science I enjoyed as a kid (and still enjoy today!)

3. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes – working as a researcher allows you set your own hours sometimes – however there is always a danger of bringing your work home with you too much.

Questions about your current Job
4. How did you go about getting your current job?
I finished my PhD in radio astronomy and spotted an interesting position on an astronomy jobs website.

5. Describe a typical day?
I use a lot of maths and computer programming and spend most of my day sitting in front of a computer or working things out on an A4 pad or whiteboard.

6. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
I have to use cutting edge radio telecopes to view extremely faint objects in the sky. I need to use programming and maths to make images which I then analyse.

7. What are the main challenges?
Researching is always challenging – no one else has thought of the solutions you need yet, or attempted what you’re attempting. Every day has a new maths or computing problem that must be understood and overcome.

8. What’s cool?
Maths, coding, science, travel

9. What’s not so cool?
Sometimes long hours

10. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I’m particularly good at computing coding and radio astronomy. Other researchers specialise in other types of astronomy or simulations.

Questions about education and training
11. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
For my leaving certificate I studied Physics, Applied Maths, Chemistry, Maths, German, Irish and English. Studying maths and the physical sciences was very helpful in going to study for a degree.

12. What is your education to date?
I have a joint degree in Applied Maths and Physics and a PhD in astrophysics from UCC.

13. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
The mathmatical and computional skills that I developed over my degree and PhD are essential in my day-to-day research.

14. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
I regularly attend data schools where new techniques and ideas are taught.

Questions about yourself
15. What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Publishing papers and getting my PhD. Also getting my first proper job as a post-doctoral researcher.

16. What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I am optimistic and hard-working. I don’t give up easily!

17. What is your dream job?
What I’m doing right now! Though honestly I think I’d enjoy lots of different jobs.

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice
18. What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
You need to really enjoy maths, and computer programming helps a lot too.

19. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Ability to motivate yourself, work hard and not give up easily.

20. What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
It depends on what you know already. If you are still in secondary school then work experience in a scientific/software company or university would be useful.

Quick Profile Questions
What is your star sign?
I probably shouldn’t answer this (it’s Virgo).

What is your favourite music?

What is your favourite film?
I don’t really have a favourite film, but I like sci-fi.

What is your pet hate at work?
When someone hasn’t taken their turn to get milk for tea…