Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Nicola O'Higgins from Bord Iascaigh Mhara to give some advice for people considering this job:


Nicola O'Higgins


Bord Iascaigh Mhara

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  Nicola O'Higgins
You need to work with people in the industry as knowledge is everything  - where to buy, who from, when etc. Health and safety courses and a pleasant manner and drive are also important.

Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.

Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
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Physical & Mathematical Sciences

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At a Glance... header image

Physical & Mathematical Sciences

  • Do you like maths and/or physics?
  • Do you like solving puzzles and other kinds of problems?
  • Are you interested in new discoveries in science?
  • Do you enjoy working with computers?

If your answer to most of these questions is yes, you may want to explore this sector further.

The Physical and Mathematical Sciences will take you into the high-tech world of quantum optics and biophysics, to the intricate problems of black holes and chaotic dynamics. Courses in this area will introduce you to the research into issues that impact the world around us and lead you towards a range of exciting career options.

Physical Sciences header image

The Physical sciences are concerned with the study of the inorganic world, as distinct from the organic world, which is the province of biological science. They include Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy and the Earth sciences.

Physics is defined as the study of matter and energy, and the interaction between them. What that really means is that physics is about asking fundamental questions and trying to answer them by observing and experimenting.

The biggest myth about physics is that it is too difficult for all but the next Einstein's. This is simply not true. Yes, physics can be challenging, but so is anything that you study seriously. Many successful physicists can tell you that they were not the top students in their schools. What they had was interest and motivation. 

Most physicists work in research and development. Some do basic research to increase scientific knowledge. Physicists who conduct applied research build upon the discoveries made through basic research and work to develop new devices, products, and processes. For example: basic research in solid-state physics led to the development of transistors and, then, to the integrated circuits used in computers.

Video: BT Young Scientist students talk about stereotypes in STEM - 2016

Physicists also design research equipment, which often has additional unanticipated uses. For example, lasers are used in surgery, microwave devices function in ovens, and measuring instruments can analyse blood or the chemical content of foods.

The development of sustainable forms of energy production; Treating cancer, through radiotherapy, and diagnosing illness through various types of imaging, are all based on physics. So too is developing computer games; the design and manufacture of sports equipment and understanding and predicting earthquakes.

Physicists may work in inspection, testing, quality control and other production-related jobs in industry. A science degree with physics will provide an excellent training in problem-solving and computing skills that can be applied in a wide variety of careers in industry, business, government, university and education.

Physics graduates can also opt for applied research jobs in private industry or take on non-traditional physics roles, often in computer science, for example - systems analyst or database administrator. Some physics graduates do a hDip. and become science teachers in secondary schools.

The following are typical areas of employment:

  • Financial risk analysis (mathematics)
  • Stock market analysis (mathematics)
  • Lasers and optics (telecommunications, optometry, holography, etc.)
  • Environmental science (weather, oceanography, pollution control, etc.)
  • Medicine (medical imaging, radiation treatment, lasers)
  • Space science (mission specialists, satellite design, etc.)
  • Acoustics (speaker research, hall design, etc.)
  • Electricity and magnetism (power management, antenna design, instrumentation, etc.)
  • Nuclear science (reactor design, waste management, etc.)
  • Materials science (semiconductor devices, magnetic thin films, superconductivity, computer technologies, biomaterials etc.)

Research opportunities are available in the area of Physics and Theoretical Physics in Irish Universities. Holders of a degree in astronomy are qualified to work in planetariums running science shows, to assist astronomers doing research, and to operate space-based and ground-based telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation.

 Useful Career Sheet from Discover Science + Engineering  [pdf files]
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Mathematical Science header image

Mathematics is the oldest and most fundamental of all the sciences. Mathematicians use mathematical theory, computational techniques, algorithms, and the latest computer technology to solve economic, scientific, engineering, physics, and business problems.

Much of the work using mathematics is done by individuals with titles other than mathematician. In fact, because mathematics is the foundation on which so many other careers are built, the number of workers using mathematical techniques is much greater than the number formally considered to be mathematicians!

For example, engineers, computer scientists, physicists, and economists are among those who use mathematics extensively. Other professionals, including statisticians, actuaries, and operations research analysts, are actually specialists in a particular branch of mathematics.

The work of mathematician's falls into two broad classes—theoretical (pure) mathematics and applied mathematics. These classes, however, are not sharply defined and often overlap.

Video: My heart beats for mathematics [ESA]

Theoretical mathematicians
 - these work with pure and abstract theories to advance mathematical knowledge. They may develop new principles or explore existing maths in a new way. Although these workers seek to increase basic knowledge without necessarily considering its practical use, such pure and abstract knowledge has been instrumental in producing or furthering many scientific and engineering achievements.

Many theoretical mathematicians are employed by university faculties, dividing their time between teaching and conducting research.

Applied mathematicians - these use theories and techniques, such as mathematical modeling and computational methods, to formulate and solve practical problems in business, government, and the engineering industry. For example, they may analyse the most efficient way to schedule airline routes between cities, the effects and safety of new drugs, the aerodynamic characteristics of an experimental automobile, or the cost-effectiveness of alternative manufacturing processes. 

Applied mathematicians working in industrial research and development may develop or enhance mathematical methods when solving a difficult problem. Applied mathematicians are required to collaborate with other workers in their organisations to achieve common solutions to problems. Some of the career titles in this area include actuary, operations research, analyst or statistician.

Video: BT Young Scientist students talk about stereotypes in STEM - 2016

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Nanotechnology header image

Physics is the root of many areas of science including nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is concerned with the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, generally 100 nanometers or smaller, and the fabrication of devices or materials that lie within that size range. That's the scale of several atoms and small molecules. It is tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a hair. Your fingernails grow about one nanometre per second.

There are three major areas involved in nanotechnology:
  • NanoBiotechnology - integrating nanotechnology with biotechnology, at the level of molecules and cells. This is a two-way process - it's about using nanotechnology tools to study biological processes at the molecular level, and using biological means to produce technical nanosystems
  • NanoMaterials - these are "atomically exact" in a way that traditional materials can never be. This gives them new and useful properties, such as great strength for their weight
  • NanoElectronics - electronics at a scale smaller than a micron (one millionth of a metre). Such tiny circuits will mean smaller and incredibly powerful computers

The NanoIreland project is part of preparing Ireland for the nanotechnology revolution. It is helping to shape government policy and aims to assist Ireland to make the right choices around nanotechnology.

Further information can be found on the website. You can read a full book "Engines of Creation - The Coming Era of Nanotechnology" online by K. Eric Drexler

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