Name: Damien Coyle
Degree and university: Ph.D. in Intelligent Systems Engineering, University of Ulster
BEng.(Hons) Electronics and Computing, (1st class) with Diploma in Industrial Studies (Distinction), University of Ulster.
Job title: Lecturer (and Researcher), School of Computing and Intelligent Systems, University of Ulster.
What do you actually do?
I am a University Lecturer with an emphasis on research so my job is quite diversified. I teach computer hardware to first year students studying computer science and engineering related topics and I lecture on cognitive systems (i.e., systems that have some level of intelligence be they artificial or real). As a lecturer I have other duties including project supervision and administration however my main role, and the one which I enjoy most, is research. Whilst my research covers a number of different topics, the main focus is on developing algorithms which can translate brainwaves into commands which can be understood by a computer. This method of enabling humans to interact with computers using their brainwaves instead of their hands is commonly known as a BCI or brain-computer interface.
What skills do you need to do that?
As a researcher in computing and engineering related topics I think there are three skills which are very important. Firstly, mathematics – you need to be able to develop innovative algorithms to perform signal processing, secondly, programming – you need to be able to code your new algorithms in software to apply them to data and thirdly, writing – you need to be able to describe the research you are conducting and present the results in published articles (paper publishing is in integral part of being a researcher). These are the key skills, however, there are range of other qualities one must possess including good people, presentation and project management skills. These are important when lecturing and managing/supervising PhD students.
How did you know you wanted a career in engineering?
I was always good at working with my hands and have always liked physical work. As a youngster I was interested in building things and fixing things, so I began working on building sites at an early age and I also topped the class in engineering, technical graphics and construction studies.
What would you like to be doing in ten years time?
I would like to be known as a prominent researcher in my research field internationally, conduct research on a full time basis and have founded my own technology company as a spinout from my research.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Research! Getting results, seeing new technology working, getting papers and grant proposals accepted, travelling to conferences…it’s all these elements that make me get up in the morning!
And the worst?
I don’t mind lecturing but it does take away time from research.
What advice would you give new graduates who want a career in engineering?
Any graduate who has decided they want a career in engineering has already made an excellent choice. Engineering covers a broad range of subjects but make sure you pay attention to learning maths and programming as a priority – being competent in both these areas will be a major advantage to you in any field of engineering but especially in computing and electronics.