Adam Polak is an engineering doctorate student, working in the field of photonics.

I'd like that job: Adam Polak, engineering doctorate student, Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics

After spending his early career working as a process and product engineer for Phillips Lighting, Adam made the move back to academia and began working on a PhD in photonics technology.

What’s your name?

Adam Polak.



Where do you work?

Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics.

What's your job title?

Engineering doctorate student.

How long have you been doing that?

Two years – I started my project in December 2013.

How did you get there?

I graduated with a master’s degree in lighting technology from Poznan University of Technology and subsequently joined Philips Lighting as a process and product engineer. Over the next decade I worked on numerous projects, many of them international.

Growing to a level of expertise in my subject, I eventually came to feel that the potential for my personal development in that environment had become limited and so decided to extend my qualifications and study unexplored (for me) aspects of light – photonics technologies. In December 2013 I started an engineering doctorate programme at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. I am now located in Glasgow, where I am the focal point of a collaboration between the signal-processing group at the University of Strathclyde and the laser system development group at the Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics.

What does your work there entail?

Being a student working simultaneously between two such distinct organisations gives me a unique position of being involved in activities related to both – signal processing and laser systems development. My project aim is integration of these two fields of science and as such my everyday tasks are focused in equal manner on the work in photonics labs, where I’m busy with development of laser systems and their use for various applications, as well as the work of programmer, where I study signal processing techniques and apply them for various signals and data sets to extract meaningful information.

This year you became an Industrial Fellow of Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 – what did this mean to you?

Being awarded this fellowship is a great honour! I’m really happy that the project I’m busy with was recognised as one of the few deserving this privilege. When I started my project I perceived it as a real opportunity to be involved in integration of two sophisticated disciplines into one powerful concept. I’m glad that the ‘Commission also saw the potential of this work and accepted me into the family. I think that joining this family – a network of skilled people from various disciplines – may be the most valuable part of this award.

What could the results of your work mean to the engineering industry?

In the modern world all fields of industry tend to have a high level of integration and delivery of turnkey solutions. They aim to bring state-of-the-art solutions closer to the end-user and extend the range of adopters of high-tech products to non-skilled operators. My project fits perfectly into this vision.

Photonic devices are nowadays emerging to conquer the world. Some of them have already reached the point of high adoption, but penetration of the market by the majority of the products is still limited by requirement of highly skilled operator at the fields of application, allowing to run the devices and understand their outputs.

Integration with signal processing could limit, or even close, this gap providing the end-user with a friendly interface and intelligent analysis of the produced data, providing just the information required for specific application as an output. This is the aim of my work and it extends far beyond the time frame of my current project, but at each step we bring end-users closer to the deliverables they need.

What's the best thing about the work you’re doing right now?

I think that for me the best part of this job is the ability to learn something new every day. I am exposed to the cutting-edge science, have access to world-class experts who can help to go through the unknowns and point me in the right direction, and there is a clear path for my daily efforts to result in a real, desirable product. 

Working in this environment is really motivating and rewarding at the same time!

And the worst?

The worst thing goes hand in hand with the best, although it probably is not about the work itself. The amount of knowledge and skills being available at your fingertips is vast but the time available to acquire and practice it is so limited. It’s is often irritating and distressing when you’d really like to make or learn something, but there’s only 24 hours a day and unfortunately a man has to sleep…

Is there any advice you’d like to pass on to those considering a similar career path?

I’d like to say only one thing – it is never too late to make a change, to learn something new, to even start all over if needed. You just need to get out from our comfort zone and that’s where miracles happen.

What do you think you'll do next?

There is very clear path for the next two years, when I will focus on my doctoral project. After graduation I hope to work in the same field of science, to explore the frontiers of photonics and signal processing.

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