Alumni profile: Mark McHutcheon
Mark McHutchon’s PhD focused on sports equipment design, particularly hockey sticks. He now works as Principal Mechanical Engineer at Pell Frischmann, based in Exeter.
Mark says, “During my final year I sort of walked into doing a PhD as I wanted to stay in Sheffield and there was plenty of funding available. A lot of the research experience was enjoyable, challenging and worthwhile; allowing me to publish, travel (USA and Germany) and complete something significant and new. Two-and-a-half years later whilst writing up it became clear that a job in Sheffield beyond the PhD was not going to materialise. A position with a sports manufacturer or further research may have seemed ideal but I had itchy feet and was starting to realise academia and research were not for me in the long term.
“After widening my search I was offered a job with Pell Frischmann, an engineering consultancy with an office in Exeter serving clients primarily in the water industry. Despite having the PhD almost completed I started as a graduate in a team of eight mechanical & electrical engineers. I admit it was a significant step down in terms of technical engineering compared to research, however every day of the last seven plus years has been different and a positive challenge. Although my research doesn’t tie in with my current role in any way, the well-developed skills in analysis, modelling and report writing have served me extremely well. After authoring a doctorate level thesis a strategic or technical report for a utility company seems pretty straightforward!”
My PhD experience gave me confidence in my ability to understand new concepts and assimilate large amounts of information which has helped me progress quickly in my current role.
Mark’s advice to anyone considering a PhD is to be aware that you must be self-motivated, “Writing up can be a real act of willpower; it certainly was for me. However I don’t think it’s wrong to apply for a PhD if you’re not interested in a long-term academic career, or not sure. I considered it a 3-year job contract working in a field that interested me in a city that I loved. A PhD will never close doors that you would wish stayed open, and although I started as a ‘green’ graduate in my present job I think my PhD experience gave me confidence in my ability to understand new concepts and assimilate large amounts of information which has helped me progress quickly in my current role.”
Since completing his PhD Mark has been blessed with some great opportunities, spending three months in Dublin working to prevent explosions in two large sewage sludge dryers and visiting some of Devon’s dams. More recently Mark has been leading the Mechanical and Electrical design of a drinking water treatment project in Iraq, leading a team of ten engineers and technicians and spent a month in-country for initial site visits and has recently been back to Baghdad and Erbil for meetings with the local engineers and Client.
Mark says, “I’m glad I did a PhD and still get a kick out of it when speaking to the bank on the phone and they call me ‘Dr’! It was hard, particularly the last few months, but I also made some good friends and had great experiences during those three years. I certainly prefer my career now though and I’m excited to see what’s next.”