Quentin Coutellier

Programme: PhD Student

Previous education: MEng Systems Engineering, École nationale d’ingénieurs de Brest MSc Sustainable Energy Futures, Imperial College London

Past employment: Systems Engineer at Thales Underwater Systems Research Engineer at Ifremer Electrical Engineering Intern at DCNS

Favourite Place in London: London Zoo

Quentin Coutellier is a Doctoral student in the Department of Management at Imperial College Business School.

Quentin studied an MEng in Systems Engineering and gained research experience in ocean science with Infremer before embarking on the MSc Sustainable Energy Futures programme at Imperial College London. He now studies the management of energy systems as a Doctoral student at the Business School.

Experience and achievements before Imperial

What is your past experience and how did this lead you to apply for a PhD?

At first, I wanted to be an engineer in ocean science, so I tailored my studies around ocean science and biochemistry. I wanted to make maps of the ocean. I did an internship at DCNS, which is a company who make ships for the navy, and I worked on the rolling bridges used to pull in military submarines. Afterwards, I joined the research institute Ifremer and I used my knowledge of ocean science to help a supervisor who was studying signs that indicate when an earthquake takes place. I wanted to study something related to my passion for water and my knowledge of engineering technology, but I also wanted to broaden my knowledge of different sources of energy, so I applied to study MSc Sustainable Energy Futures at Imperial College London. I met my current supervisor, Dr Mirabelle Muuls, and she recommended that I apply for the Doctoral programme at the Business School.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Graduating twice from Imperial – the first time for my MSc and then for the MRes. Entering Imperial was an achievement itself. I was also awarded a bursary to take part in Climate-KIC Summer School and have had a paper published in Nature Geoscience as a co-author.

Studying a Doctoral programme at the Business School

Why did you decide to study the Doctoral programme at the Business School?

On this programme, I don’t only study the specific subject area that interests me, I also gain a grounding in economics, finance, entrepreneurship, innovation and strategy, mainly through the MRes component. I also like the interaction of disciplines here. My background is in engineering, and I would always think about how the things I studied or the ideas I had could be useful in a practical context, how they could be implemented by businesses. Now I work on energy demand and if I want to ask someone from a different department with different expertise for their perspective on something, all I have to do is go over to a different building and I will find those people. If I were at a Business School that wasn’t part of a wider university like Imperial College London, I wouldn’t be able to do that, and when I approach those people they respond very quickly.

What aspects of the Doctoral programme have been most challenging?

I found the econometrics module hard, because many students taking the module had studied something similar before but I hadn’t, except for some of the maths. I understood the equations but I didn’t ‘speak the language’ of the subject. I found Innovation and Entrepreneurship fascinating but again I hadn’t studied entrepreneurship before so that was also challenging. There’s a lot of hard work involved!

Which seminars, events or guest lectures have been especially useful?

We have many seminars and we meet researchers from many different universities. One academic will deliver a speech and then all the researchers present will pinpoint any problems in the research, from a method-perspective, a theory-perspective – anything at all that could be questionable, they will spot it and ask you to justify your decisions. So I have learnt a lot from this. In my first year I don’t think I asked a single question, but now I find that I often think of a question and then another researcher asks it, so I know that I am learning to think like an academic and I think this is a good learning process.

Developing a research topic

What is the focus of your research?

The management of energy demand. I’m looking at electricity, heating and water consumption and how they can be optimised in terms of efficiency but reduced overall. The idea is to find solutions to two questions. The first is, how we can teach people to consume less and to understand the consequences of excessive consumption? The second is about implementing automatic solutions, like systems that will manage energy consumption, allowing the consumer to optimise their consumption and realise savings while giving information to energy companies about demand. For example, electricity companies could run more efficiently if they understand demand better because then they don’t have to turn down power stations or buy in extra electricity. It is a complex system – at the moment I am at the tip of the iceberg!

Have you had any unexpected changes to the development of your research?

Yes, mainly technical challenges. My supervisor and I wanted to deploy feedback intervention methods for our research but the measuring infrastructure put in place was faulty, so the metres were not working for a while and the database wasn’t recording data during that time. That prevented me from going deeper into my first research question, which remained more basic in the end. We are now developing new metres. With another project, we were using Wi-Fi plugs to record student energy consumption and we’ve experienced practical problems, like the lights on the plugs keeping students awake at night. It seems obvious when I say it now, but we hadn’t seen the student accommodation beforehand, so we didn’t foresee it.

Being part of the Imperial College Business School community

How would you describe the community at Imperial?

Diverse. Expert. Strong. It’s fantastic, really fantastic. In the office we’re 15 students, and we represent maybe 13 nationalities, so we meet so many people from other backgrounds. Even when I meet another French student, they are not from the same city.

What has been the greatest opportunity you have had at Imperial?

I am a member of the Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (Climate KIC). They are a partner of the Grantham Institute and they provide training for PhD students at Imperial. They granted me access to an entrepreneurship summer school, focusing on climate change. I was a Climate KIC student during my Master’s. I’m now a KIC InnoEnergy student and they give me additional classes on subjects like energy and economics. KIC InnoEnergy isn’t a partner of Imperial just yet, but they are very keen to recruit more Imperial students, especially from the management and economics departments.

Thinking to the future

What are your future career goals?

I want to be an academic. This programme prepares us well to become teachers. We have teaching duties and teaching training. So hopefully I will work in academia, but before that I want to work for at least one year in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Energy Agency (IEA), or the United Nations in Paris, because they design and implement energy policies.

In addition to my PhD, I am also involved in running several start-ups. One is linked to my experience at the Climate KIC Summer School. We had a lecture where the speaker mentioned that we currently have no means to track student water consumption and I said to the students near me, ‘let’s design something to do that’. We are creating a smart water metric system which doesn’t require any battery or power supply, which could be wireless and connected to your smart phone so that you get in real-time water data. We have a letter of intent from another university who want to manufacture the system with us and we recently spoke to another team of students looking at developing something similar, who we are going to team up with.

Living and studying in London

How have you found moving to London?

Amazing. I was not keen on big cities in France. I like the sea shore and sea gulls! Then I came to London and I fell in love with the city. I spent my first week, around six or seven hours a day, just walking around.

In your opinion, what is the most exciting place in London?

I love the parks, and especially the natural reserve southwest of Hammersmith. I also like London Zoo. Then there are many restaurants. I really like My Old Dutch in High Street Kensington. I could speak for an hour about great places in London!

Advice to future students

What advice would you give to a student considering studying a PhD at the Business School?

Think about a supervisor you would like to study with. I think the most awesome thing about studying here is my relationship with my supervisor. I am working with someone who will never let me down. She also has my full commitment, and nothing can stop a supervisor and their students if they work well together. My topic changes all the time because there are so many challenges to overcome, but whatever the subject I am studying, I will be fulfilled working with that supervisor. My supervisor inspires me and she made a huge difference when I was choosing where to study.

Programme: PhD Student

Previous education: MEng Systems Engineering, École nationale d’ingénieurs de Brest MSc Sustainable Energy Futures, Imperial College London

Past employment: Systems Engineer at Thales Underwater Systems Research Engineer at Ifremer Electrical Engineering Intern at DCNS

Favourite Place in London: London Zoo