The crystal ball we all have!

crystal ball picture: fortune telling Crystal balls]

When will I get that dream job?

Will I be as successful as I dream of being?

Why am I not getting the job/promotion/pay rise/secondment I want?

How do I get to the perfect professional position?

Is my job secure?

Most of us find these questions and more coming up in our professional lives at some point. While it may seem that a fortune teller has a better chance of giving an answer than we do, that may not necessarily be the case.

I recently started doing an online module on ‘strategic thinking and it struck me that a lot of what I was learning could help formulate some answers to these questions including the ‘how’ bit.

Some key ideas that the course made me realise include:

  1. Am I aware of the larger vision and goals of my organisation?
  2. Can I demonstrate that awareness and how my work contributes to these?
  3. What is the trend in the sector that I work? How does my organisation sit within that?
  4. Am I/my organisation prepared for a sudden/disruptive change?
  5. Why me?

Being able to answer points 1-2, would make you a valuable resource for the organisation as opposed to another average employee. It would probably increase job security and chances of doing well within the organization. My university, for example, is undergoing a strategic change at this time, and it probably makes sense to be aware of where it’s headed now (towards a more research excellent reputation), and accordingly see if my work fits that goal and to be able to demonstrate it to my head of department!

Point 3 can help look at the larger picture and see where the organisation could do better and possibly point that out, again improving one’s performance within it. It can also point to something equally important but distinct: if this sector is shrinking, is this where you want to be? Should you attempt lateral moves: another company/lab doing well/another location where the downsizing may be delayed? But ultimately after a certain period, will it restrict your growth and/or put you in a position where a big jump is inevitable? In which case, should you move to a different high growth sector/industry where your skills and knowledge transfer well? How do you identify it?

Point 4 made me think of digital cameras: they completely changed the way we take pictures and also routed film cameras completely. Almost no one uses the old cameras any more. Could this happen to me? My core expertise is numerical modelling methods, and before the advent of commercial software (that were reasonably good/user friendly/affordable to a degree) modelling was the domain of experts. Today, that is not so. The trend is set to continue, with labs buying these software and often people who don’t have (in some cases don’t need to either) extensive training, knowledge and experience with modelling methods to simulate devices. What does that indicate for the future for me? How likely is such a disruptive change and how fast would the transition be? How does one deal with that?

Point 5 made me realise that even in a focused area where my expertise would be useful and required, I still have to make the case, for myself: why pick me? Amongst the many applicants for this position, what makes me special?

The next thing is how does one answer these questions? Where does one even begin?

There are a number of tools (associated with theories) that can be used to assist one. To help see the bigger picture, the course suggested that it is worth asking ‘what if’ questions that questioned the status quo; gathering information and learning about trends, challenging assumptions, trying to look at the situation from different perspectives, identifying the root cause.

As a lot of this thinking has developed in the business world, the tools developed by thinkers, scholars and management gurus can be very powerful. The website ‘mindtools’ has a very good collection of these, and there is some fascinating reading to be found on the sites of The Economist and Harvard Business Review. I also found this blog to be quite insightful:

The most appealing to me when thinking of my career in the long term include the TOWS matrix, Core Competence Analysis, USP analysis and Scenario Analysis.

I guess this means some homework for me. And maybe for you too!






Above, beyond and farther still…a homage to Voyager I

In recent newspaper articles and stories on the Beeb, there was strong speculation that the Voyager 1 spacecraft had finally left the solar system*. The manmade craft was now entering interstellar space and into depths that have never seen a manmade object before!

I think I was literally giddy at the thought! Entering deep space!  Yes! Wow…

This decade has brought some heady excitement because of revelations from the world of Science:

–           Much attention has been hogged by Higg’s boson and the LHC which has strengthened the Standard model of Physics and may have us standing on the cusp of supersymmetry (see also!

–          The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012 and since then has been sending us astonishing data about Mars- the red planet may have harboured life in the past!

–          A study involving over 1000 scientists in 160 research groups has revealed the genetic causes of prostate, breast and ovarian cancer.

–          A detailed map of the universe’s Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation based on observations from Planck is now complete.

All of these discoveries and others not listed here are exhilarating stuff. Yet, it’s the journey into space, far away from our home planet that somehow, is the most romantic to me.

Launched in 1977 Voyager 1’s mission was to study the planets Jupiter and  Voyager1 and its missionSaturn, which ended in 1980. In 1990 it gave us a portrait of the solar system and the famous ‘pale blue dot’ picture of the earth. Its given us proof of volcanic activity on the Jovian moon, Io and insights into the complex rings of Saturn.

However the probe that is now 35 years old, has had its mission extended and now it is sending us information about the heliosheath, the outermost region of the heliosphere. In time it will leave the region where the influence of the sun is felt and enter interstellar space. Imagine that! A point in space (and beyond) from which one can turn back and see the entire solar system! A point which the mighty sun that so dominates our lives, cannot influence…

It is expected that Voyager 1 will eventually run out of power by 2025 and as long as it is still functional, will carry on sending us signal from a very distant place.

As long as Voyager 1 continues its journey in some way it carries all of us who are earthbound into space with it. I hope one day we have the ability to emulate part of that spectacular journey ourselves!

* There has been debate previously and even now, on whether it has entered interstellar space or a previously unknown region of the heliosphere.

The Solar Cell Diary- part II

Set up and benchmarking

This is continuing the experiment that I started with my post The Solar Cell Diary- part 1, on this blog, writing about a research project from its inception. I chose to write about Si solar cells with a surface micro-structure.

My experimental partners will be using an ‘integrating sphere’ layout. The first challenge was to see if we could set up our software, Lumerical, to mimic this layout or at least ensure that there is equivalence. After some thought we realised that by allowing the simulations to run for a sufficiently long time in Lumerical, the set up would indeed be equivalent.

Then onto the next step: benchmarking!

Dreaded word…. Yet unless a method, setup etc. are properly benchmarked, one cannot trust the results. The purpose of benchmarking is to test the method (in our case the FDTD in Lumerical) for some known problems to determine the accuracy of the method, its robustness and stability. Only once this is done, is it prudent to use the method on a problem where the solution is not known. Otherwise one risks, dealing with two overlapping signals: is the method inaccurate or is there a problem with the setup/structure/our analysis.

For us benchmarking was broken down into two main steps:

a)      Determining the positions of the source, monitor and PML

b)      Choosing the mesh and other calculation parameters properly.

solar cell- setup

Fig. 1: Set up for simulation of solar cell

For step a, through trial and error, we found the distance between the source, monitor and PML, such that reflections from the cell surface all have time to travel to the monitor (and be recorded), while they do not have enough time to reflect off the PML (even PML will reflect some small amount of incident radiation) and contaminate the readings. Our numerical set up is shown in Fig. 1 and indicates the distances as well as the travel time for pulses.

In Step b, we determined mesh parameters such as spacing between points in the x,y and z directions. Our aim was to find a set/s of values of dx, dy and dz, for which the error was within acceptable limits. To do this, we compared our results for Reflection from a plain solar cell with theoretical as well as known experimental results. We define error as the difference in the reflection we obtain and that of analytical calculations. Figure 2, shows one of these comparisons with a plot of error as a percentage, versus wavelength for different values of dz, while we keep dx and dy constant with a value of 0.25 micron.

benchmarking-planar solar cell

Fig. 2: Error in reflection as a function of wavelength for different dz.

In the figure, it can be seen that increasing dz even slightly produces fairly large error, especially at shorter wavelengths.  By decreasing dz, the resolution and accuracy increase, however so does the computation time and memory requirements. The latter, can increase dramatically. For realistic problems it is extremely important to determine the acceptable error and then find mesh parameters that are feasible computationally. In my next post on this topic I hope to put up some results relating to the actual microstructure on the cell surface.

Meanwhile, please do email me if you have comments!