Spotlight 2017

Laurence O' Rourke - Eurpoean Space Agency (ESA)

23 Jan 2017
Laurence O' Rourke

UCC alum, Laurence O’Rourke, is making his mark on European space exploration working as a Science Operations Co-ordinator with the Rosetta Mission. He even has an asteroid named in his honour. Laurence tells us how his time at UCC led to an exciting career with the ESA.

Course/subjects studied in UCC

I did an MEngSc in Microelectronics in the NMRC (now the Tyndall Institute); while what I studied in Cork has nothing to do with my day to day work, it was very much a key stepping stone to where I am now.

Best memory of UCC

UCC was really lovely on a sunny day where we could enjoy our lunch while sitting on the grass. I have lots of great memories of UCC and of Cork itself; I guess those that have stayed with me the most are linked to the relationships built up while participating in the various club activities there.

How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now? 

Coming from NUIM having finished my under-grad and starting a post-grad in Cork was quite a challenge. It was really starting from zero as regards building friendships, learning my way around a new city, learning about microelectronics etc. Besides the studying, I really pushed myself in UCC to constantly try new sports and activities and I went from being a very shy, reserved individual to being a lot more open by the time I left Cork. So in a lot of ways, going to UCC helped me to mature, build confidence and indeed realise that life is for living and one should never sit back and let it go by; challenge yourself regularly. When I left Cork, I moved directly to ESA in the Netherlands and there I was once again in a new country and having to build again a new life - my experiences in Cork helped to make that move so much easier.

What is your advice to current UCC students? 

I guess my advice can be summarised in three points: 

- Firstly join the clubs & societies that the College has as it's a great way to make friends and you will enjoy your time a lot more as a result; but never lose sight of the reason you are there which is to get that qualification. I am happy to write below about all the great experiences that I had while there but you'll notice I still left with the qualification I arrived there for! 

- Secondly, at least in my case, the amount of information I pushed into my brain in University (in NUIM and UCC) which had very little to do with what I do now was immense but this I believe is where it's a little less "what your learn" but "how you learn" that is important. In University, there's no-one looking over your shoulder to make sure your projects have been done - you really have to make a huge jump to become independent and to drive yourself to do tasks assigned to you - you physically have to learn how to learn and present it in a way which is concise and understandable. When you enter the working environment you will find that these techniques are an essential part of helping you to swim rather than sink as your boss will expect you to deliver on time in an area which might require quick research from you and there's few excuses that can be given if you can't. 

- Thirdly, for those who may be studying a subject that is not very challenging or indeed have good career prospects, don't worry, look for a way to use your qualifications to enter new areas where you get that challenge and feel motivated. It's very difficult to reach your final goal in one step so don't hesitate to take many to get there. While I did like working in the area of Microelectronics, I absolutely loved working in the space field. With my Masters, I worked initially on the packaging of microchips for space flight, then I moved to assembling some examples for a satellite, then moved to help build the satellite and watch it launch, to then be involved in operating satellites once in space, to finally lead a team operating science instruments on the Rosetta satellite as well as being system engineer for the Philae lander. But it all began with my Degree & Masters; these helped to open the door to new areas where I could gain the experience needed to take all those career jumps.

What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you? 

I remember John Alderman and Frank Stam from the Tyndall Institute as both having a great sense of humour while being really excellent in their areas of expertise. I found Cork people in general to be really friendly and approachable. I love the city and have no problem in saying that the Cork accent is fab.

Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies? 

Absolutely. I did a lot of hillwalking with the UCC Mountaineering Club which was brilliant and I have a lot of good memories from those walks; granted our heads were generally in the clouds due to the rain but there were really some walks that had spectacular views. I also was in the UCC Karate Club and got my black belt; I haven't trained since then as I guess the motivation dropped having achieved what I had set out to do already years before. I tried water sports (water skiing, windsurfing, sailing); I think the water in the lake where I did water skiing dropped by an inch the time I tried it as I swallowed so much - frankly I was terrible at water skiing. I played, rather badly, a lot of pitch and putt. I joined a dance school on Patrick’s Street and in the end became a teacher giving dance classes also at UCC which was quite some fun. The country side came out in me as I joined the Cork Macra na Feirme. It goes on and on - as you can see, I did a lot while there and I left with lots of great memories.....and my Masters.

Favourite UCC legend or superstition 

None in particular that strikes me. I wonder whether the Tyndall Institute had a resident ghost as I remember having to work some long nights there and feeling a little uneasy sometimes. For those who are there, don't worry; it was probably me just imagining things..........or was it :0)

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