Work Institution: University of Dundee, Scotland
Research Interest: Biomedical engineering
Tea or Coffee?: A cup of tea please!
Hi, my name is Lukas and I am an engineer from Switzerland. Right now, I am pursuing my PhD degree at the University of Dundee in Scotland. In this blog I want to give an insight about my professional background and how this influenced my decision to work on a biomedical project as a mechanical engineer. This shall be a report from an early-stage researcher to young adults taking the next step after the studies at the university. And I might have included a few cultural spoilers and interesting facts about countries…
To start my report, let me tell you where I am coming from, what I have studied at the university and what my interests are: I was raised in Zurich in Switzerland. You might ask what’s my native tongue, as you are right – Switzerland has 4 official languages and one’s native language usually depends on where one grows up. Zurich lies in the German speaking part – so my native language is Swiss German (not to be confused with Germany’s German please).
Anyway, I grew up in Zurich and followed the standard educational path of Switzerland. Swiss education is quite distinct compared with most other European systems, which is worth explaining, as it had an influence on my choice of career. In Switzerland 9 years of school form the foundational education. Once completed, 70 -75% of all students go for an apprenticeship in a company, agency or government office. They get trained in a profession and receive a professional qualification after three or four years. In general, the standard of an apprentice is high, and one can learn a highly specialised profession, for example aircraft engineer. After completion one can enter the job market as a professional. In consequence, and this is the important difference to most other countries, 70-75% of all adolescents in Switzerland do not need to pursue a university degree to get a good specialised job. The other 25 to 30% of the students follow the academic path by going to high school and afterwards study at a university.
In my case it was not clear for a long-time which career path I want to follow. I was always enthusiastic about engineering, I loved to understand the underlying mechanisms of machines. However, I also loved doing practical work. One way to combine both interests is the role of an aircraft engineer who repairs and maintains the (big) airliners. During my last two years of mandatory education I was interested in this profession as Zurich has a big airport and a number of companies offered excellent apprentice programmes.
However, I decided against this career path and joined high school for four more years of general education with some specialisation in maths and physics. Subsequent to high school I studied mechanical engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. The range of my studies was quite broad and covered classic engineering disciplines like mechanic and fluid dynamics but also more recent areas like renewable energy sources. During my time at ETH studying was like opening a tool box and taking out one tool after another in order to learn about its primary function and its intended use. After learning the handling of one utensil it was always time to put it back into the box and take another one. So, after receiving my graduation I had a whole set of tools in my educational box but no clear idea on what project I should use them.
During that time, I joined a biomedical project as a device development engineer. This project was a collaboration between the university and a hospital and developed ex vivoorgan perfusion machines. The team was composed of engineers, biologists and medical specialists. It was quite a different environment to the standard working bench of an engineer in academia: As it involved specialist and project stakeholders from two completely different worlds, engineering approach vs clinician’s view, a constant exchange between the different parties was needed. For a successful project it was crucial to think beyond the personal horizon and beyond the personal preferences (as mentioned, engineers and surgeons think differently!). For me, being part of that project was an opportunity to get in touch with a different discipline, the world of medicine and hospitals. It also triggered my interest in working on the interface between the two disciplines, engineering and medicine, as it requires a lot of coordination and exchange between different parties.
My current position as a PhD student in iPlacenta offers such a working environment. Based at the University of Dundee, my aim is to develop a biomedical device in a cooperation with an industry partner. My role is to combine the advantages and knowledge of academia with the expertise and demand of the industry. It involves a lot of managing the inputs of all the people in the team and a certain understanding of each discipline involved. Here, my educational tool box helps me a lot. Having studied different aspects of engineering, different tools, enables me to act within the interface of academia and industry. Having studied many different utensils facilitates thinking beyond the personal expertise.
My resume for this blog: I shared, dear reader, a bit of my experience going through education until I reached my current position as a doctoral student. My journey involved and still involves the adaptation to new disciplines, uncertainties and pushing the (personal) boundaries. During this experience I was introduced to my educational tool box and I have learned how to apply certain utensils. More importantly than studying one specific tool, I have learned how to study new ones. I think that’s one key quality in professional life nowadays. Especially for graduates looking for an opportunity to push their career. Therefore, let’s think beyond personal limits and have the flexibility and willingness to adapt. That’s a quality which is so needed nowadays in a world of Big Data, acceleration of life and many uncertainties.
About the blog
Being a PhD student in a European training network is a life-changing adventure. Moving to a new country, carrying out a research project, facing scientific (and cultural) challenges, travelling around Europe and beyond… Those 3 years certainly do bring their part of new - sometimes frightening - but always enriching experiences.