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Keep calm and be half an engineer, half a PhD student by Emna Amri

The PROMIS experience is exceptionally challenging for me since I have to deal daily with my half-engineer half-scientist life between the company IDQ and the university and to be honest with you I underestimated the situation...

Having two jobs means having two offices, two different work schedules, two cafeteria’s bills to pay at the end of the month and especially two bosses! It means also having quantum existence; no one is able to locate you precisely in time and space, a phone constantly ringing and a heavy set of keys!

But having two jobs super-connected like mines makes the story much cooler ;)

Monday morning, my alarm rings at 7 a.m., the first thing I think about before even opening my eyes is whether it is the company week or the university week and then things happen accordingly...

A week in ID Quantique

Spending the week in the company means no more time to sleep! I wake up immediately, I dress properly; jogging and sneakers are not an option, and I go to work with in mind all the projects I am working on and the milestones I should reach by the end of the week. The projects in IDQ have a dynamic priority order and are most of the time split between the different departments. For each project, there is a sale team that expects you to do amazing things because this is what they have sold to their clients, a manager who takes care of time and resources distribution and a bunch of superheroes called hardware and software engineers trying to make it work. Obviously I belong to the last category :)

In IDQ I am working as a junior hardware engineer simultaneously on two kind of projects. 50% of the time is dedicated to a research project about the development and miniaturization of a Quantum Random Number Generation (QRNG). Hence, I spend most of my time studying the quantum phenomena behind the operation of this device, looking for solutions for physical improvements and trying to align with partners in order to investigate the feasibility of some settings. Besides desk work, this project requires attending workshops and lectures about the topic, participating to daily conference calls and writing technical reports. The QRNG is my “pet” project because it gives me more degrees of freedom with flexible time constraints to explore a breaking edge technology and also because my friends reaction is like “Wow!” when I say “I am working on quantum random number generation for quantum cryptography!” ;-)

The other half of my time in IDQ is devoted to engineering projects like printed circuit boards design and conditioning for products and test benches design and building. This kind of project has usually time constraints and should satisfy specific requirements, it is more stressful and involves a lot of team work to resolve issues. You may also need to meet the client and in that case you should look confident, a master of your field and never miss a bit of the discussion, the Harvey Specter style!

Participating to these challenging projects is very important to me; it allows me to improve my skills as a hardware engineer but also to feel the adrenaline pumping from time to time!

The work atmosphere in IDQ is exceptional, people are very close and you don’t feel any hierarchy. We all like to party, especially our boss, and the week usually finish with a big “apéro” to celebrate sales, a birthday, a new-born… or sometimes just the weekend!

I am also learning a lot of thing about pregnancy, taking care of children, cooking and time optimizing thanks to all the daily conversations I listen to with amusement during my lunch time!

A week in the University (Group of Applied Physics: GAP)

“Wait a second… last week I was in IDQ which means this week I should go to the GAP! Yeeeees I can sleep one hour more!” I turn off the alarm and I go back to sleep.

At 8a.m. I wake up full of energy, or this is what I try to convince myself with, I wear the most comfortable things I have in my closet and I exchange my handbag for a big backpack to be able to carry my computer, my lunch and other stuffs.

The week in the GAP starts quietly, I usually have time to schedule my activities for every day. Afterwards, the measurement tools hunting starts; I look around all the labs in all the floors looking for pieces of my measurement setup that had disappeared during the week I spent in IDQ. Once everything is settled, I start measuring.

Doing measurements is one of the main activities of a PhD student, it takes a lot of time and it transforms you into a robot. Sometimes you even start talking to machines and samples begging them to give the measurement results you are hoping for (Please tell me I am not the only person who does this). Once you get what you need, you should think about the scientific explanation of your results and the best way to valorize them and then you start writing a paper. All this to say that I spend my week in the university bouncing between measurements and paper writing and this should take as long as it takes to be well done. Bye Bye IDQ deadlines and pressure!

Friday is different since we have the group seminary during which we present the progress of our work but also papers that we may have come across and found interesting (And I have to present 30 papers to get my degree!). This weekly meeting is very important to me and to all PhD students because it allows me to expand my knowledge about other aspects of photonics, keep updated about the latest achievements in the field, improve my communication skills and also practice French and English since we must present our work in French and the scientific papers in English.

Being a student in the GAP is a life style in itself. First, the host building is an old orphanage located on a hill, in the middle of the forest far from Geneva University campus. If you are feeling sorry for me right now, don’t. I TOTALLY love it. Actually the building style is more like a house which makes you feel like home and don’t mind staying longer every day. You also feel like a part of a big family. Moreover, the view around is just amazing and the trees are always green even in winter! We also have a vegetable garden that we take care of. The atmosphere is obviously warm and friendly and everybody is always IN for a drink in the big balcony after a long day of work. However, there is something I still can’t understand, I think there is kind of a mysterious dress code that only senior PhD. students and researchers get and adopt, like pairing socks with sandals. I will tell you more once I decrypt it but so far I think I will stick to my clothing style.

I know some of you may wonder which job do I prefer. Don’t bother looking for the answer I love both of my jobs and if I would be asked to choose where to go exclusively I would never know what to do! Actually it is one of the questions I always try to flee.

For the moment I prefer keep calm and be half an engineer, half a PhD student.

What I do in my “little” spare time, I will tell you that in another blog ;)

Wed 12 October 2016