Career Profiles: Conor Cahalane

What is your name?

Conor Cahalane

Where do you work and what is your role/job title?

Maynooth University, Satellite Earth Observation/Laser Scanning/Drone Surveying

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes! Great balance of getting to do interesting things, see new places, meet new people, explore new technology.


Questions about your current Job

How did you go about getting your current job?
It was a bit of a roundabout route…I was only 17 leaving school after LC so it took me a while to find a course I liked. I picked the wrong one too! I left. I worked for a few years then in the bank which was great, got some money, grew up a bit, had another look around. Then went back to college for a full-time BSc degree in DIT in Geospatial Science and then liked that so much I did an MSc at night in Applied Computing. Worked for a few more years as a surveyor, then took a career break to do a Ph.D. with lasers, then did lots of contract projects in a research center, then finally landed a role doing teaching and research at Maynooth University. I’m also a chartered surveyor – a member of a professional group so I do a lot with the survey companies in Ireland and UK.

Describe a typical day.

Emails, classes, labs, committees, student support, meetings with project partners, supervision of Ph.D. students, and all the time trying to make some time for research if I can (this usually happens more outside of term-time!).

On a really good day – it always keeps me busy and interested, I could be looking at a satellite picture of the Atlantic ocean or virtual reality model of a historic site, or flying a drone to map an exposed west coast heritage site – really varied work, and you get to contribute to so many different projects and really use what you have learned to make a difference.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

Has to be the range of projects you can use satellites or drones or laser scanners for – I’ve worked helping people in agriculture, forestry, the military, mineral exploration, coastal defence, pollution control, national mapping, security, search and rescue, seabed mapping – you get to do so many interesting things and for me, that’s great as I hate being in a boring job. I’ve even used what I know to help teach English, Maths, Geography, and Science at junior cycle.

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike
I don’t think it’s any surprise to hear that college lecturers hate grading assignments as much as the students hate doing them. I’m sure it’s the same in school….anyway, gotta do it – training the next generation is vital. Often the people I train end up joining me on research projects, so it’s a real pipeline.


Questions about education and training

What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

I work in the Dept of Geography at Maynooth University now – but believe it or not, I didn’t do Geography at LC level. It was a mistake as I got to love lots of the content in college – ‘location’ underpins so much that you see in everyday life. I took physics for LC which I have found very useful and also maths, which I have been a bit of a late bloomer at. Still not confident at it, can’t do it under pressure – but it’s in almost everything I do and very easy to relate to real-world applications. I always liked computers, this has stood to me well in many of the technical subjects from 3D modeling, to image processing, flying drones.


Questions about yourself

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
I suppose the most rewarding times are when you graduate a new student cohort or see them doing really well in a newspaper or social media article, or run into them at a conference. Seeing people interested in what you teach at outreach events is also nice.

What is your dream job?
This would be pretty close to it!


Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example?

‘I want to be a college lecturer’ is not career advice, that’s just me – and it took me a lot of years to realize I liked teaching people and also learning new things.

The advice I would give to you is the whole industry of ‘geospatial’ or ‘surveying’ – whether you are using drones or earth-orbiting satellites is fascinating, and it’s really becoming part of everything that’s going on nationally with the focus on sustainable development goals and the national climate action plan. GIS is another thing I teach on, that is using a Geographic Information System – it’s kind of like a database with a map, and this is probably the most employable skillset from the whole Dept Geography. For work experience, ask in your local county council, see if they have a survey department or a GIS officer, contact them. If you live near a survey company, ask them do they do any laser scanning or have a drone fleet, they might let you help out on a survey.