Ciara McDonald

Electronic Engineer
British Antarctic Survey
BEng Electronic Engineering, MEng Electronic Engineering
PhD Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering Technology

The people I met along the way are a highlight of the PhD. In a shared office space, you get the chance to engage in a diverse range of intriguing, interdisciplinary subjects. It’s a network of friends that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. I absolutely loved being a student at Maynooth University. The Engineering department and the people I met are the reason I chose to stay for 10 years to finish my whole academic career! From the very beginning, the small and intimate classroom sizes appealed to me, gathering close friends and a support network that were the foundation to getting through the 40-hour weeks. Maynooth University also went against the grain slightly with the reputation of universities being primarily theory-based. My year group grew closer as we took part in project-based learning, where we got hands-on knowledge of the different Electronic Engineering principles and equipment.

I was very fortunate to be awarded the academic first prize during my first and third year. It was a reminder that all the hard work was and would be worth it. As I gained confidence throughout my undergraduate through the various tasks outside of my comfort zone, I took on more challenges. One of these challenges was lecturing in China at Changzhou University, where I taught Electronic Engineering Fundamentals to 1st year students through English for 3 weeks. It is an unforgettable moment that further advanced my public speaking abilities. So much so in fact, that it inspired me to give it a 2nd go the following year. I then decided to push myself again by teaching a Summer Module to Texas University Tech Students on ERASMUS in Ireland.

Maynooth University offers a unique atmosphere that sets it apart from its larger counterparts in the East of Ireland. With its smaller size, it fosters a sense of community and friendliness, especially within the Electronic Engineering department.
I always found that the Engineering faculty members treated everyone equally and fairly, cultivating an inclusive and respectful environment for all students. They also made a concerted effort to know each student by name and treat them as individuals, ensuring a personal touch in their academic experience. For the most part, after any one-to-one conversations, I was reignited with enthusiasm for the topic of discussion.

I also studied at Maynooth University as it allowed me the chance to work with established companies and grow my professional network while I still studied. I eventually ended up working with Analog Devices, PureLifi, Ltd., and Nokia Bell-Labs throughout my academic career.

There are so many skills during my PhD that have been incredibly valuable in my career. As I am based in Antarctica, there is a certain level of competency that is expected for your own health and safety. I was sent on a wide and varied selection of training courses to help with this (Radio Operator, MEWP Operator, Meteorological Observer, Mountaineering, Medical Assistant…), and it mirrored the multitasking of being a PhD student (papers, company meetings, project goals etc.).

As I am the solo Electronics Engineer on base, I am also expected to act autonomously and react to a varying range of issues appropriately. I can think of no other experience better than a PhD and the rollercoaster of emotions it sets you through to prepare for this.

My advice would simply be to have a goal and work towards it, but don’t let the bigger picture ruin the small moments you’ll have each day. Progress comes from taking small steps, it’s not always a sprint to the finish line!