Schools and University in France, and then UCD in Ireland
In Dublin, Texas, Paris, and Galway
Chair of Applied Mathematics
The best thing about my job:The contact with my fellow scientists and with students, and the intense satisfaction of solving a maths equation, in research as well as when teaching. I still get a kick out of it, and I can’t believe it’s my actual job.
My Main Tasks:
My main task is to write scientific articles for international journals. It’s a long process! I have to come up with an original idea, test it in theory, then test it with computers and experiments. If the idea is original and confirmed by the experiments, I write it as an article which I then submit to a journal who will send it for (anonymous) review to other scientists. If they find it of worthy scientific value, it is then published. It can take years from beginning to end! I also have other scientific responsibilities such as being an editor for several scientific journals, writing grant proposals and administrating the successful ones, mentoring final year Undergraduate students, summer interns, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, going to conferences to present my work and discover that of others, etc. Beside doing proper science, I also deal with email, paperwork, preparing and delivering lectures, writing and grading exams, visiting schools and taking part in outreach activities such as this one, or FameLab, or Bright Club where I had to develop a stand-up comedy routine (look it up on YouTube)!
What I Like:
Coming up with new scientific ideas all the time. Staying focused for hours, days, months and sometimes years on a problem. Learning and understanding new results and new techniques. Writing the results in a clear manner, that will be understood by the readers. Lecturing to large classes. Facing the general public in outreach activities.
There are two types of days: those with lecturing and those without. In NUI Galway there are two semesters of 12 weeks for lecturing, and during those I teach and do research (and some paperwork) while during the remaining 28 weeks, I’m a full-time scientist. Most of the time it’s just me and my paper/computer, calculating and writing. Not so exciting to look at! I’d say I spend 80% of my time at my computer, trying to discover new things or coming up with new ideas. I also collaborate with others (scientists in Ireland and abroad, and my PhD students) and we write scientific articles.
How I got into this job
One thing led to another!
First I wanted to be a secondary school teacher in Physics and Chemistry. So I did a BSc in Physics (and had to repeat second year!).
Then I did a HDip in Education (1 year) to become a qualified teacher.
By then I was tired of studying so I took a year off and went to work in Eddie Rockets in Rathmines for a while. It was fun but tiring!
Then I had to do my French National Service and I was sent overseas for two years, in New Caledonia (look it up!).
Then I decided to come back to Ireland for an MSc in Mathematical Physics in UCD.
Finally I became a secondary school teacher in Rennes, France. But after a year I realised I missed the maths too much and went back to UCD for a PhD in Mathematical Physics (3 years).
Then I got a temporary lecturing job in Texas A&M University, USA (two years).
Then a permanent scientist job in Paris, France. I stayed there six years and then got a Fellowship to return to UCD for two years.
I was planning on going back to Paris but applied to the job of Chair of Applied Mathematics at NUI Galway, just to see how it’d go, and I was offered the position! I’ve been there since 2010.
What's the best thing you've ever done in your career?
Proving that brain is softer than jelly!
What or who inspired you to follow this career?
All the great scientists! And of course, my advisor at UCD (the late Professor Michael A. Hayes) and my family were extremely supportive and had a major influence on my career choice.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be in the same career as you?
Keep an open mind and focus on the things you like best. Maybe your final career in science will be different from what you had imagined at the beginning, because you and your interest will probably change (I had planned to be a secondary school teacher!)
What do you see as your next step in your career?
More of the same please.
What other sorts of jobs can you do with your qualifications?
Teacher (did that for a year), science journalist (did that for a month at Irish Times) and apparently many jobs in finance and IT (many of our graduates do that)
What's the best part of your current job?
Solving equations and predicting how things will turn out in an experiment
What don't you like about your current job?
The administrative part: having to go to meetings, sitting on committees, taking the minutes, writing reports, compiling data, that sort of things. But it has to be done!