The scientist: ‘Just keep working on it”

Ambition: Holly wanted to be a scientist because she “really likes knowing how things work”.

What does it take to be a scientist? In part one of our new ‘Careers’ series, research engineer Hollie Wright tells The Day about her life in the lab and how she achieved a childhood dream.

Hollie Wright wanted to be a scientist for as long as she can remember.

“A while ago, my mum was moving house and I found this little folder of work I’d done in nursery. It was a questionnaire with my favourite colour and my favourite animal. It said there: ‘When I grow up I want to be a scientist’.”

That dream came true. Hollie works as a research engineer at Heriot-Watt University, where she is studying for a PhD in Applied Photonics.

Hollie went straight from school to study Physics at St Andrews University, but keeping on top of the work didn’t always come naturally.

“There were times when I found myself really struggling with the courses, and feeling like I’d fallen behind.” But she says that anyone can succeed with hard work and dedication.

Each day is different, but most of her time is spent in the lab. “At the moment, I’m trying to develop a technique to measure distances with lasers.”

“It can be quite frustrating sometimes. You solve a problem and then you’re on to the next problem. But, at the same time, it’s really exciting. I’m constantly thinking and trying to come up with new ideas.”

Hollie’s ultimate goal is to discover or invent something that will improve people’s everyday lives.

“I’m not sure what that will be yet, but I hope that one day I can eventually feel like I used my work to help people.”

What does it take to be a scientist?

Bright spark

“Never be too afraid or embarrassed to ask questions in class,” says Hollie. “Asking questions is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are taking responsibility for your learning!”

“Learning to code is a fun hobby that will impress employers in the future. CodeAcademy, Udemy and RaspberryPi have free resources to help you get started. Plus, once you learn one coding language, it becomes easier to learn more!”

You Decide

  1. Would you like to be a scientist? Why or why not?


  1. Make a list of three scientific discoveries that changed the course of history, or make an impact on your daily life.

Some People Say...

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

Carl Sagan, US astronomer and science writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Women make up 22% of the STEM workforce and, as of 2016, just 11% of engineers. Hollie is on the Young Professionals’ Board of the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) campaign, which aims to encourage more women into STEM careers.
What do we not know?
The best route to becoming a scientist. Hollie’s place at a CDT means that she gets to learn more about the business side of research.

Word Watch

The highest university degree. After completing a PhD (or doctorate), you gain the title “Doctor” (not the same as being a medical doctor). To get a PhD, a student must produce an in-depth, written study that contributes original ideas to advance their subject.
Applied Photonics
An area of physics research that involves finding ways to use lasers and other types of light beams in manufacturing, healthcare and other industries.
The study of forces and particles. It is different to Chemistry (the study of chemicals) and Biology (the study of living things).

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