Where did you do your undergraduate degree?
I did my undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in University College Cork in the South of Ireland.
Why did you choose to study at Imperial College London?
I didn’t actually look for a PhD originally, as I was looking for a job. Unfortunately I lost out on a position at ARUP, but they offered to fund a PhD for me, and I decided to apply. I was interviewed by my supervisor Professor Tim Green, Dr Silversides and Dr Mitcheson from the Control and Power Group. It went well, and I started in January 2012. My PhD is co-sponsored by ARUP and National Grid.
Could you summarise your PhD Project
My research looks at new high voltage DC (HVDC) technologies that could be used to create an offshore transmission grid in the North Sea. HVDC is more efficient and economical for long distance submarine cables. The research looks at a system model that brings offshore wind that is being planned and commissioned in the UK to shore and then interconnects with nearby EU countries to improve security of supply and enable energy trading between interconnected countries. My research focuses on the technical issues that a possible offshore grid faces, as HVDC grids are not as well established as AC transmission systems.
What have you enjoyed most about your PhD?
That’s a tough question. Often a PhD is a project you do on your own, but we have quite a large group who work on HVDC and power electronics so we are actually quite collaborative and we bounce ideas off each other. It’s useful to have Professor Green’s research associates and more senior PhDs to talk to. Also working with someone who is quite prominent in the areas we all work in is quite invigorating and fun. Additionally, although there is a lot of research and work, it's quite fun to look at new ideas. Fundamental research is quite intriguing and interesting.
What do you think of the facilities?
I have assisted with the teaching in the department as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) and I have also chosen to attend other lectures for my own interest and benefit. I have been to some Control and Power lectures and I have found them very useful. I chose to do Dr Kerrigan's Optimisation Control module which was very complex but really interesting at the same time, as it covers the theory we use for some of the controllers for the converters we use, so it was useful background.
I have taught undergraduate labs as well and so have experienced teaching first years, and the facilities here are fantastic considering the number of students – almost every student has equipment they can use pretty much immediately. We are blessed with the technicians in this building, especially for the first and second year undergraduates.
There also lab facilities for research, the Maurice Hancock Smart Energy Lab is used by my peers to develop lab scale hardware of the large HVDC converters we study. These hardware converters allow us to go from computer models to physical testing quite rapidly. There is also a distribution microgrid set up in the lab, which can be used to represent a small AC distribution system with high renewable energy penetration and smart devices which can be controlled to ensure the system is stable. Being able to realise your research and ideas into hardware is very rewarding.
What do you think about studying in London?
I haven't enjoyed the rent prices, but that's not unique to London. Certainly coming from Ireland it's the closest to home. Then there’s the ability to travel anywhere else, and also not even having to leave the city to do that, the fact that you can experience some of the good food and culture of many different nationalities in one city is really quite appealing.
What are you hoping to do after your PhD?
I would like to stay in research as I think at present there are some interesting questions that could be answered but there is no definitive plan. My PhD certainly changed my mind about going into industry. It took me a long time to understand the process that to get to a lecturer position you actually have to have a career in research.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to study a PhD here?
I know the department are looking for good candidates, so if you have an interest certainly get in touch, as there are many different ways that you can come to do a PhD here. As well as the traditional route, there is the centre for post-doctoral training where you do a very broad first year and then think about what you want to do, and then there's the more direct approach which I and most of my colleagues have followed, where you have a project and you narrow it down once you're in. There are also a lot of advertised PhDs, it doesn’t need to be something you propose.