She's an Engineer - Karen M. Donaldson

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K M Donaldson

Route into engineering

I have always asked "why for?!" as I have a strong interest in science and engineering. I particularly have an interest in space science and engineering, and I have always known that this since I was very young (apart from one brief period where I wanted to be a nuclear physicist, which always created a slightly awkward silence at school careers day). So at University I studied for a BSc(Hons) Physics and then I went on to do a postgraduate masters in Radio Frequency engineering and finally a PhD in Physics where I studied space plasma and radiation, skills that would allow me to work in the exciting world of science and engineering.

I have always wanted to stay in the science and engineering world and so when I left University I searched for jobs where I could work in positions that were conducting space related research.

The skill set I have now compared to when I finished my PhD has equipped me even more to work on projects and in fields that I desire. I am very much enjoying my current job and I am excited to see where this takes me and all the other interesting projects I will be working on!

Job description

Project Manager Robotics SuperLab at Scottish Microelectronics Centre

By education I am actually a Physicist. I used to work on plasma physics experiments and simulations that replicated some parts of the environment of space to study radiation. Then I worked in Space Mechatronics Laboratory on various projects including a robotic system for agricultural and space exploration, as well as an intelligent connector for use in future space missions.

Recently I have worked on a project which aimed to develop a very large robotic system that can work in hazardous environments such as nuclear power stations so that humans do not need to work in these harmful environments.

In general, I do research for a variety of different projects and subjects and disciplines. I also write this work into an advanced reports called research papers and submit it to be published into Science and Engineering Journals. I also teach and provide supervision for students.

One of the reasons that I like working in research and academia is because every single day is different. Each day I am doing something new or learning something new. For my personality type, I love to continuously learn and to acquire new skills and knowledge. One day I could be working on my computer for the whole day writing research papers, running simulations or researching a topic and writing documents, another I could be in the laboratory conducting experiments, using interesting instrumentation or having meetings with Industry partners to make a plan of how we complete our projects. I love my job because I am rarely doing the same thing.

My advice would be never be afraid of trying to achieve your goals and ambitions! It doesn’t matter who you are, if this is what you want to do, and you have a passion for science and engineering then get involved in it. Research what field you want to get into and find out which qualifications you need then work hard, be inquisitive and go for the moon shot!

It is also good to surround yourself with like-minded, ambitious people and take advice from those who have gone before you and established themselves in similar fields. Chances are they will have worked out some kinks that may come along and have great advice about how to get around them.

Remember, no two people’s paths to achieving their ambitions are quite the same, so don’t compare yourself to others.  I would go back in time and tell myself that my path to where I am now was a winding one but that didn’t stop me from getting where I am just now. So, keep your head down, eyes up and remember; failure is not an option.

I love doing outdoor activities like snowboarding/skiing and water sports. I also love going to the gym. I also love to read books about Space exploration and cook!

There have been many highlights in my career far! I get to meet some incredible people, including the former CTO of NASA, Mason Peck, as well as renowned engineers and scientists. I also get to work on some amazing projects involving extremely interesting and innovative research for organisations like the UK Space Agency.

I have also been able to publish research papers in a wide variety of Scientific journals. I adore science and engineering and it really is such a pleasure and joy for me to do my job and that I able to have it!

There are of course challenges that come with working in science and engineering, which can involve long working weeks and conducting difficult research. But for someone like me (and you!) then these challenges are overcome with the high level of interest, reward and satisfaction that come with knowing you are contributing to the engineering and science world!

I think one of my proudest achievements was when I was able to transition from the research field of Physics into the discipline of engineering. I have worked in the fields of Space Mechatronics and now Robotics with no formal education in those areas, it has all been learning as I go. I have recently just moved into the position of a project manager of a Robotics Superlab and I am extremely proud of myself to have came to this point from a Plasma Physics background. Advice I could give from this, is that remember whatever your education you have been equipped with a great set of transferable skills so use them, don't limit yourself because you don't fit into a 'box'!

K.M. Donadlson 3 pictures