Meet the Researcher: Michael O Sullivan

Michael is a CONFIRM PhD student based at the University of Limerick

“It’s rewarding to be in control of your own work, to come up with theories and ways of testing them, and to present your findings at different conferences around the world.”

Tell us a bit about your research...

My research primarily focuses on a concept called mass customisation. This basically means producing custom products at a scale and price near that of mass produced ones. For example, imagine buying a pair of headphones and being able to choose the colours and size, create a unique shape for the headband and even have your own design engraved in it, without having to pay a crazy amount. It’s something that has been dreamed and written about for decades but only seems possible in recent years due to advances in technologies like 3D printing and big data.

Unfortunately, most companies trying it are failing as they struggle to understand where customisation makes sense. I’ve developed a way to help companies figure out if their products should be customisable and in what way, based on how much customers are likely to pay. It’s a little bit complicated so in order to make sure it’s easy for companies to understand and use, I turned it into something kind of like a board game. Soon I’ll be going to Georgia Tech in Atlanta as a Fulbrighter to see how my research can be developed further.

What did you study as an Undergraduate?

I studied Product Design & Technology at the University of Limerick. It was a really enjoyable course, focusing on how people interact with the world around them and how we can design products to fit their needs. I’d recommend it to anyone who would like to do something creative but still learn a bit about science and engineering.

What made you decide to go into research?

After undergrad I knew I wanted to try developing a product and starting a company but I wasn’t sure exactly what that product would be. I was offered a research position on an EU project that sounded really interesting so I thought it would be a good opportunity to continue learning and gain experience, while also having access to labs and experts in UL for working on side projects. I originally signed up for a two-year Research Masters but decided to extend it into a PhD.

What do you enjoy most about being a PhD Student?

I enjoy the sense of ownership and autonomy that comes with research. That’s not to say I could never work for a company, but it’s rewarding to be in control of your own work, to come up with theories and ways of testing them, and to present your findings at different conferences around the world. Of course, the flexible hours are nice too!

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about a career or research in STEM?

I would highly recommend a career in STEM. It’s really interesting and rewarding and the career opportunities are great. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who did a STEM course and regretted it.

If you’re interested in doing a PhD, I would say do a lot of research first and have a deep think about it. It’s a big commitment, so only do it if you’re sure it’s something you want and if it’s in a topic that you find really interesting.

Find out more about Michaels Research on his monthly blog...

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