• Reading Level 5
Science | Citizenship | PSHE

The scientist: ‘Just keep working on it’

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 has 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 an EngD in Applied Photonics. Hollie went straight from school to study Physics at St Andrews University, but staying 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.” She says that, although physics has a reputation for being “too hard”, anyone can succeed with hard work and dedication. “Sometimes, you will be behind, but it’s okay as long as you’re willing to put the work in.” It was at St Andrews that her dissertation supervisor suggested she apply to the Centre for Doctoral Teaching (CDT), where she is now studying for half an MBA in Business alongside her EngD research. Hollie says that the programme has helped her understand how her research will be put to use by industries. 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.” Is being a scientist different to how she imagined? “I expected there to be a lot more regular discoveries. In reality, it takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work to get to your result.” But the hard work pays off in the end: “Once you finally get it, it’s really satisfying.” Looking ahead, Hollie is excited about finishing her Engineering doctorate. But her ultimate goal? 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! Besides, if you are unsure of something, there is most likely someone else who is unsure and they will be grateful you asked the question.” “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!” KeywordsDoctorate - A research degree, like a PhD (doctor of philosophy), that qualifies the holder to teach at university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession.

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