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John Hastings is a PhD student in the School. 

Here he tells us what it’s like to study for a PhD...

John Hastings - PhD Student

Where did you do your undergraduate degree and what did you study?

I did my BEng in Electronics and Computer Systems and my MSc in Telecommunications and Internet Systems both at the University of Ulster.

Why did you decide to a PhD and why did you choose Queen's?

After spending a year working in industry I decided that I wanted to take my career in a different direction. I thoroughly enjoyed the research elements of my undergraduate and taught master’s degrees and I love working on new things in exciting areas, so I had a look at the research projects on offer in the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen's University. Queen's has an excellent reputation, particularly for the kind of research I am working on, so I jumped at the chance to apply. 

What is your research about?

With my background in computer science and telecommunications I am in a unique position within the Energy, Power and Intelligent Control research group. I am working on the ICT infrastructure that will be part of our next-generation smart grid. I work closely with experts in the electrical engineering field and ICT fields. My main focus areas are: Smart-grid communication protocols, critical infrastructure networking and cyber security.

What are the best and worst things about doing a PhD?

I have really enjoyed the journey so far. It is thrilling to be surrounded by such smart individuals on a daily basis. Within the School we have a great atmosphere that promotes idea-sharing and collaboration. As for negatives, there aren't many. Work load and deadlines can be stressful at times but for someone like myself who thrives under pressure this is probably a positive! 

What would your typical day as a PhD student involve?

After a hearty breakfast I will make my way into the office by bicycle in the morning. I spend a bit of time catching up on my emails when I get in, usually with a cup of coffee. I will usually spend a bit of time reading various forums, blogs and research papers related to my research areas, making notes of any ideas I get in the process. Lunchtime is usually spent with colleagues. We are a multi-national research cluster filled with researchers from all around the world. It is a great environment to have discussions about our work.

After lunch I try to do something practical. I do a lot of programming in Python, C++ and .NET and usually have a few different things to be working on. Some of my work involves using micro computers such as the Raspberry Pi to accomplish certain practical tasks such as controlling domestic appliances with messages from the internet.

Outside of my main focus areas I also have a keen interest in robotics and I have been involved with the School’s Robotic Soccer Team in collaboration with NUI Maynooth. A PhD student's day can end anywhere from mid-afternoon to midnight! When you're working hard to finish something, it is sometimes hard to resist the urge to stay late. However, when I do leave for the day I like to get a good dinner, exercise, catch up on my favourite shows, and prepare myself for the following day. 

What about Queen's and Belfast in general – what is it like to study here?

Queen's is an excellent place to study. The facilities are brilliant and the guidance and support I get from staff are fantastic.

Would you recommend doing a PhD?  If so, why?

If you are like me and like to question how things work, or like to work on better ways to do things, then I highly recommend pursuing a research degree. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Having had a taste of research and thoroughly enjoying it I can see myself continuing my research career either in academia or in industry. With such novel work and ideas that are born whilst doing a PhD there is always the idea in the back of my mind to start my own business in the future. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The PhD is a grand challenge and I encourage anyone who is reading this and thinking 'that sounds like me' to go for it!