Being a Research Student at RGU – Craig’s story

RGU’s research culture was voted “best in the country” by the annual Postgraduate Research Student Experience survey. Our research students are supported by dedicated staff to develop their skills and expertise. PhD student Craig Stewart shares more about his research project and experience studying at RGU.

A bit about myself

I am Craig Stewart, a 32-year-old PhD student from Aberdeen, Scotland. The bulk of my waking hours these days is spent in the RGU research hub in the Sir Ian Wood Building, postulating over various engineering projects with occasional bursts of writing rave tunes on my laptop.

My proclivity discipline-wise is towards the electrical and electronic side of engineering. As such, I obtained my undergraduate specifically in this subject at RGU in 2020, with a first class degree.

When I am not in RGU’s many labs, classes or the research hub, I can usually be found in a garden somewhere admiring the simplicity of plant and insect life or listening to tunes with my partner.

Despite what people may think generally about people who undertake a commitment to long time learning as a PhD student, I don’t see myself as particularly exceptional. I was not privately educated as a kid, my grades in school – especially maths, ironically – were average for the course. My childhood was spent in the rural working class. There is absolutely nothing about me until I attended college that suggested I could aspire to undertake a PhD.

The one thing that does probably set me up for such a path is my endless thirst to learn about the world on a philosophical and scientific level, and my ability to waffle for hours on end. If I can do it, then anyone can with the right determination!

My PhD research

My PhD research area tends towards “Multimodal Underwater Communication Networks.” In layman’s terms, you could call it, “Underwater Internet.”

My aim with this project is to increase the amount of data that can be carried through the underwater internet of the near future whilst enabling it to be reliable. That way, we can allow communications among submarines and other underwater vehicles to carry diverse types of data such as video and sound without the need for an umbilical.

My research topic was essentially offered to me by supervisor, Dr. Nazila Fough. They honestly could have offered me anything and I would have taken it! I am open minded and willing to jam my foot in any doors that are shown to me. That said, I am particularly drawn to the potential of technology for oceans as they are still vastly unknown to us on the whole, which represents a pressing technical challenge that needs to be solved. 

I am now in my third year, and I have just come up with a novel method of communicating data that should hopefully be worthy of a journal publication, having done several conference papers already on the subject.

This will have benefits for the energy sector, as well as the academic sector, who could use this to communicate with devices on the seabed tracking climate change, processes or otherwise, enabling us to understand the oceans on a new level. Therefore, I hope my developments will be a positive advancement for the world.

My experience as a research student at RGU

I chose to study at RGU as I have been here for several years prior. I like the campus, it’s modern with a lot of natural light. It’s well designed compared to many universities I have visited.

Since I had been at the school for several years, I was well known by the faculty. Thus, there was no awkward transition. The staff knows that I am passionate about engineering and science and were able to channel my energy in the right directions.

My experience researching at RGU has been positive overall. I have found myself doing things I would not have done if I had just gone straight to industry. Last year, I travelled to a conference in Genoa, Italy, by myself to present some of my work. I have never really had the opportunity to travel before, so it was a unique chance to see another university and experience a different culture.

I virtually navigated from Bergamo to Genoa via Milan and back without knowing a lick of Italian. As a result, a lot of unknowns that would have phased me before no longer do. It’s safe to say I have grown from that experience.

My supervisors are very involved in their field. Professor Radhakrishna Prabhu, my secondary supervisor, has been involved in many projects. They bring a wealth of knowledge and guidance, and offering plenty of opportunities.

My learning experience has been great. I have access to all the big journals for the PhD itself. In addition, I take quick looks at other subjects that I am interested in such as the energy transition. I started this PhD as an engineer, but I have also had the opportunity to study other parallel subjects such as chemistry and atomic physics along the way, so I have been kept fascinated.

My ambitions as a researcher

I am not very materialistic. As long as I have enough money to take care of my family, I am happy. As such, my ambitions as a budding researcher are just to be the best I can be as a person. If research continues to engage me and offer me opportunities to learn and develop as an individual, then I will keep doing it!

Craig Stewart

Some words from Andrew Lamb, Dean of Graduate School at RGU

As the Dean of Graduate School at RGU, it’s my responsibility and pleasure to work with all our postgraduate research students like Craig.  As you will hopefully appreciate from his story, becoming a PGR student at RGU should be seen as a possibility for most, if not all, who have the desire and motivation. 

We pride ourselves in providing an outstanding modern campus with state of the art facilities and a fulfilling learning experience for those who choose to come and study with us. We can evidence this from the most recent Advance HE Postgraduate Research Experience Survey that ranked RGU 5th overall nationally, where the excellent supervision provided by our staff that Craig referred to was ranked 2nd overall. 

Having as recently as 2015 being rated lowest in Scotland for research culture by our PGR students at that time, the last few years have been spent with the focus to fundamentally improve. We were therefore delighted that the PRES survey in 2022 not only placed us top in Scotland but top in the whole of the United Kingdom for both our research culture and our research skills. 

This has been the result of the huge efforts and considerable teamwork by all those involved in postgraduate research. This includes the PGR students themselves where their very helpful and constructive feedback has allowed us to work in partnership to achieve such success. 

Not only do we offer an excellent learning environment for our PGR students, we also offer research projects that address some of the fundamental challenges that we face on the world of today and in the future. The findings from these projects have a major impact in providing solutions to pressing needs of modern society, from sustainable energy, housing, and transportation, to cybersecurity, and to improvements in health and wellbeing. 

As will be clear from Craig’s research on the ‘underwater internet’, research undertaken at RGU has real world impact. This why graduates from RGU, being very highly sought by employers, possess the skills that will shape the world to come for future generations. 

I am also delighted to announce that there is an opportunity to come join us at RGU to undertake world leading research! We will be shortly announcing details of a major strategic investment that will be supporting a substantial number of fully funded PhD studentships annually that will commence in 2023. 

We would encourage applications from everyone regardless of background, and particularly from those who might not realise how much they have to contribute. If you want enquire to learn a little more about these opportunities please feel free to get in touch with us.

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