Name: Sarah Medley
Job title: Software Engineer
Company: ISIS Neutron and Muon Source
What do you do?
I am responsible for the design, maintenance and customisation of the accelerator control systems, particularly the alarms. With technology of varying types and from different eras working in tandem, my work is in ensuring everything functions properly so the research at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source can go ahead without a hitch.
What does your company do?
The ISIS Neutron and Muon Source provides beamlines of sub-atomic particles that can be used by researchers from around the world to analyse different materials and understand how they respond to different environments, for example, to investigate sustainable alternatives to ingredients found in soap or understand how we can develop better batteries.
How does what you do help tackle climate change or achieve net zero?
If anything goes wrong, the system can be offline for hours or even days, limiting the research that is being done at the facility, a lot of which is helping us find greener solutions to our climate problems. In my job, I help make sure that doesn’t happen, so the research conducted here can continue faster and breakthroughs realised sooner.
How is engineering helping tackle climate change or achieve net zero?
Everyday, engineers from around the world are discovering new ways to reduce energy consumption and harness carbon-free, renewable sources of energy in more efficient manners. Without engineering we wouldn’t see the electric car revolution, or power large sections of the national grid with solar and wind power.
Could you describe an average day working in your job?
I’m always working on multiple projects at the same time. I’m responsible for managing our control system alarms, so a lot of my work is focused on how to improve how they are displayed to the control room operators. I’m also involved in a big project to upgrade our control system to more modern software. A typical day for me involves working on these projects, whilst also fixing any issues with the control room screens, to help make sure the ISIS equipment can be operated correctly.
What made you want to do engineering?
I think engineering is so important as a practical, technical way to solve real-world problems. I enjoyed science at school and I wanted to do a career where I could apply scientific and creative thinking in a way that helps society – to me, that’s what engineering is all about!
What route did you take into engineering and why?
When I was younger, I wasn’t really sure what type of engineering I wanted to do, but I knew I liked science at school, so I decided to study Physics at university. My Physics degree enabled me to get a place on a graduate training scheme, where I learnt all about different kinds of science and engineering work. I found I enjoyed control systems software engineering the most, and the rest is history!
What personal qualities are important to do your job?
To me dedication and hard work are a must-have for my role – those are, and always have been, the qualities I’ve needed to succeed in engineering, and they’re much more important than being the smartest person in the room. Being a good communicator and working well with other people are also really important qualities as an engineer
What do you like most about your job?
The ISIS Neutron and Muon Source is part of the wider Science and Technology Facilities Council network, and this has really opened up whole new world of opportunities. I worked on an STFC-wide ventilator project, where I was able to work with experts from all over the UK and abroad. It’s been really meaningful to see my work have such an immediate impact in a time of crisis and I don’t think I would’ve had the same opportunity anywhere else
What advice would you give to young people who might be interested in a career like this?
Don’t give up! If you’re interested in engineering, then go for it. Sometimes people might tell you it’s not for you, or you might feel like it’s too difficult, but just try to ignore that and carry on anyway – that’s what I did. There’s so much variety in the world of engineering work that there will definitely be something out there that inspires you – keep going until you find it!
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I’m a local councillor, so I’m very involved in helping my community and trying to make the area where I live more eco-friendly. When I’m not doing that, I like cycling, playing board games and going to the theatre.