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Queen’s intern abroad designs award-winning fire fighters’ helmet

Imagine you’re a firefighter entering a burning building. The room is so thick with smoke that you can’t see. How do you know which way to turn? This was the challenge set for Queen’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduate Sean Hackett before he helped design an award-winning fire fighters’ helmet that tells the wearer which way to turn with a simple buzz to the left or right of the head.  

As an IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience intern), Sean is enjoying a year placement as an intern at the Visual Intelligence Studio in Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, where he is part of a research team exploring a safer communication tool for firefighters. 

Under Senior Systems Scientist Dr. Yang Cai, the ‘Haptic Helmet’ prototype conceived by Sean’s team won the award for “most commercially viable” at the NIST Haptic Interface for Public Safety Challenge. The contest assessed the use of virtual reality environments as a development tool for creating safety technologies. 

As part of the project, Sean and the team travelled to Denver, Colorado for live demos in a fire fighting training facility. This practical experience allowed them to understand how firefighters navigate unfamiliar paths through burned buildings filled with smoke and noise.

Sean said: “The experience of interacting with real-life firefighters and working independently on solutions has been very interesting for me.”

The prototype helmet

Dr Yang said: “We encourage engineers to find simple solutions that work in the real world. “Although I give them instructions to guide and get them started, I also encourage them to use their own knowledge and experiment because in the real world there is no textbook that tells you what to do and engineers have to work on a lot of problem-solving”.

Along with Dr Yang, Sean and the team worked to develop technology that successfully improves firefighter’s safety and efficiency of in the most challenging and hazardous environments.

Sean with fellow intern Florian Alber

During his internship, Sean has also been helping edit a research paper for presentation on “Indo-Navigation and Fire Fighters Activity Recognition”. 

Dr Yang commented: “Students and participants from western Europe have a brilliant work ethic. Together, they produce research papers and work on innovative solutions, adding value to the lab. Some European interns have great writing style in addition to other talents and that is monumental when it comes to writing and editing research papers for conferences, which is great additional help.”

Sean works on drone projects for public safety alongside a fellow researcher

According to Sean, it wasn’t hard settling into the new environment thanks to the immense support offered at the lab. “Of course, it’s challenging to be away from friends, family, and home. It takes a little while for the initial adjustment of the processes and procedures but once that is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”

Sean and Florian check out the Grand Canyon

The year stateside has also given Sean the opportunity to experience American culture and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, participate in social activities and enjoy American adventure and sports.

To find out more about IAESTE internships, visit https://iaeste.org/open_internships

More about Sean’s research

To discover more work and study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities page

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Global Opportunities internship placement Research STEM Switzerland Technology Work abroad

“My life changing experience on an international internship”

Queen’s Chemistry student Anwin Robin has described a paid internship with the British Council’s IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) programme as “the best year of my life.”

Like many Queen’s students, Anwin took the opportunity to gain international experience and boost his employability skills on a paid placement abroad. 

Anwin, from Dromore in County Down, moved to Switzerland in June 2019 to work with Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.

Anwin said: “During my internship I drew on my background as a chemistry student to carry out research into making stronger materials. Knowing that they may be used in the future in structures ranging from airplanes to wind turbines made my work feel tangible and relevant.”

Anwin at work in Switzerland

The best year of my life

During his time in Switzerland, Anwin also had the opportunity to meet up other interns working across the country through weekend excursions organised by IAESTE, the largest global mobility programme for STEM students in the world. 

Anwin added: “My time in Switzerland has been the best year of my life so far. My IAESTE placement showed me how international many companies are today and confirmed that I want to grow my work experience outside of the UK. I will forever be grateful to IAESTE for providing me with this opportunity.”

Adapting for Covid-19

Anwin enjoyed the experience so much that when Switzerland went into lockdown because of Covid-19, he chose to stay in the country and continue his internship from home. He also used this as an opportunity to develop his coding skills.

Anwin has remained in Switzerland since finishing his IAESTE placement in May. He is currently applying to further internships in the country and hopes to eventually study for a Masters in computer science.

Whilst Covid-19 has restricted much travel this summer, many IAESTE placements have shifted online in response.

Among the 15 students from Northern Ireland who are currently undertaking remote internships with organisations in the USA, India, Bangladesh and Poland, are several Queen’s students who are joining online seminars and discussions. Their subject areas include biomedical science, business and marketing, computer science, aerospace engineering and chemical engineering.

Life changing impact

Jonathan Stewart, Director of the British Council Northern Ireland, said: “It’s wonderful to hear about the lifechanging impact of Anwin’s IAESTE placement, and we wish him all the best as he starts out in his career. Despite Covid-19, the IAESTE programme has quickly adapted and continues to offer quality opportunities for our university students to gain international experience. The remote internships help to provide Northern Ireland students with new technical skills while also experiencing different cultures and ways of working.”

In Northern Ireland IAESTE is funded by the Department for the Economy and delivered by the British Council.

Queen’s STEM students interested in applying for the IAESTE programme can find more information here:

https://www.britishcouncil.org/study-work-abroad/outside-uk/iaeste

For more information on work or study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities site

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Career planning Global Opportunities Leadership

Q & A: What Happens During Queen’s Career Development Programme in NYC?

Film & Theatre Making student Christian Green spills everything you wanted to know about Queen’s Career Development Programme in NYC.

What inspired your trip to New York?

I applied for the Career Development Programme to NYC because, as a film student, I have long considered the option of moving to America post-graduation. The trip appealed to me because of the focus on developing skills and personal traits that employers look for, like confidence, communication and professionalism. It also promised to help us to develop a, “global/cultural awareness”, and despite me being to America with my family on multiple occasions, I had not yet developed that awareness of America’s business landscape and what it is like to network and put yourself forward as a young business professional in that kind of environment. I was more than interested in the diverse range of pre-planned company visits and also the specific visit of going to meet a BAFTA winning filmmaker.

What were the highlights of the experience?

On a personal level, my top highlights of the trip would have to be:

Meeting with filmmaker Marcus Robinson at the World Trade Center and receiving an open invitation to come and work with him post-graduation.

Seeing the city for the first time. The hike I did on my own through Manhattan (visiting most of the iconic locations within the city as well as iconic film locations).

Going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

The Queen’s Alumni Networking Evening where I had the privilege to speak in front of past Queen’s students from all fields and generations.

Last, but certainly not least, getting to meet such a diverse and wonderful group of Queen’s students whom I had the pleasure of sharing this experience with. Everyone was able to take a lot away from the programme and we all made memories and developed friendships that will last us a lifetime.

What was the most surprising thing about the experience?

What surprised me the most whilst in New York was the fact that the world of business (whether that be corporate or commercial), even within a large city like New York, is not as intimidating as it is made out to be. When people think of business in its stereotypical form (briefcases, suits and all), we all instantly picture the elite, the select few. Who handle money and have careers that some of us could only dream of. My main observation from one meeting to the next during the visit was that this is not the case at all. Yes, you do need to have certain qualifications, a specific work ethic and can-do attitude in order to succeed but once you are in, everyone is just like you. Most of the people who spoke to us were either Queen’s alumni or natives of Ireland or Northern Ireland and because of that, they interacted with us all on a very personal level. They wanted to hear about us and what we studied and aspired to do just as much, if not more, than they wanted to talk about themselves and their companies/success stories. Even some of the CEOs that we met, who initially seemed quite intimidating and powerful, were not that much different from the nine of us seated around the table. They simply worked hard, dreamed big and made the right decisions when the opportunities came along. As sung by the legendary Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere”, and that just about sums up the world of success and professional business within New York; if you can get your foot in the door and be heard, the possibilities are endless.

In what ways has the trip been life-changing?

For myself personally, the key life-changing piece of information that I learned from the programme is that “corridor vision” can narrow down your career options and that ultimately, you can tailor your own future for yourself. For the people who are maybe are not so sure of what they want to do or they are open to the idea of alternatives, at each and every company in New York we were told in some shape or form, “If you come from a university like Queen’s with a good degree (no matter what field), that shows a certain kind of determination and aptitude to learn”. And with that, the opportunities for post-graduates who simply have the confidence to make the move and the determination to succeed are almost endless. Whether it be the likes of internships at KPMG or Moet Hennessy or the TwitterU programme, your degree does not tie you down to one door at the end of the corridor, one job. Do not become so fixed on this one role that you ignore all of the other opportunities that present themselves to you along the way.

In what ways did the trip enhance your CV?

In terms of my CV, the trip helped me add the credibility of being a Global Ambassador for Queen’s but also helped me to develop a lot of my own skills which I can now list with confidence such as public speaking, team work, team leading, presentational skills, organisational skills and professionalism. It really did open my eyes to what it is going to take for me personally to go out to the States and take in the culture shock but also adapt to it.

Discover more about the career development programmes at Queen’s

Discover more Global Opportunities at Queen’s