Please tell us about yourself
When Jaguar Land Rover releases a new model next year, Orla Murphy will allow herself a small moment of satisfaction. “There’ll be a small part of that car for which I’ve been fully responsible – I’m proud of that,” says Ms Murphy.
The 26-year-old engineer has the enviable job of helping create the best sound systems around for new models released by the luxury brand, sometimes with up to 30 speakers in one vehicle.
She’s an acoustic and audio specialist with a love of music – and a job which requires her listening to it is her dream. “Anything the customer hears in the car, my team is in charge of,” she explains.
If Ms Murphy had followed her mother’s advice, she may well have become a doctor instead. She achieved good grades at school, so her mother urged her to study medicine.
“Like many of her generation, my mum didn’t see engineering as prestigious,” she admits. “But I had really encouraging physics and maths teachers.”
Orla Murphy is a forward model quality engineer working in Jaguar Land Rover’s electrical quality team. This role looks at improving the quality of electrical components in current lines, as well as improving processes to design better quality electrical elements in future vehicles. Previously, Orla worked as an audio engineer, bringing together her love of science, maths and music to optimise the sound systems in Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
She was spurred on after winning a BT Young Scientist competition and went on to study a master’s in electronic engineering with music at the University of Glasgow, where she became an expert in the specialised physics of sound.
“I’ve always played in orchestras,” she says. “At first, I thought I might work in the film industry but I realised during my degree I wanted to work for a company with a specific product.”
I always enjoyed maths and science lessons at school – and was good at both subjects – so when I was 16, I entered the BT Young Scientist competition in Ireland. I really loved the experience of scientifically investigating a problem and coming up with a solution. It really sparked my interest in science and engineering as a future career option.
How did you get to where you are now?
The main subjects I studied at school were physics, maths, chemistry and music. It was hard to find a university course that combined all of these interests, but I eventually chose a degree at the University of Glasgow that had elements of both engineering and music. It was a master’s degree in electronics with music, and I really loved it! During my degree, I also did two internships: the first was at BT, where I was a research intern, completing subjective tests into the perception of video quality with different methods of encoded video (where video input has been converted into a digital format). The second internship was at Jaguar Land Rover’s Global Design and Engineering Centre. At the end of this internship, I was offered a place on the graduate scheme, which I eagerly accepted as the job was well suited to both my degree and interests. I liked the fact that the graduate scheme included lots of training and development to help me adapt from studying to being a full-time engineer.
“If you ask pupils how they see engineering, their first thoughts are often that it’s ‘dirty’ work. When I talk to them about what I do – that it’s really hi-tech and involves a lot of design work, they’re genuinely surprised,” she explains.
“Careers evenings are pivotal.”
And often it’s the parents of students who hold the misconceptions about engineering, she reveals. “But if I tell them I’ve worked all around the world – a placement working at Jaguar Land Rover’s open source technology centre in Portland, Oregon, in the US, and a spell testing radio antennae in Prague – then you see them begin to think differently.
“Some say: ‘I’d never thought about this for my daughter but now you mention it…’ Often it’s parents who hold the influence.”
What is your favourite thing about being an engineer?
I really enjoy solving problems, and I like the fact that my job is constantly evolving with new technology. Engineers have to adapt and use cutting-edge technology, so your role is always changing and developing. I can’t imagine a career doing anything else.
Tell us about some of the cutting-edge technology you’ve worked on…
My job is about the perception of sound in the car. In an orchestra you listen to all kinds of sounds, from the really low frequencies of a tuba to really high frequencies from a piccolo, so my ears are good at knowing what to listen for. I wrote a research paper recently on 3D surround sound and working on that is really exciting. But zonal audio – where specific noise cancellation can create different listening zones – is the Holy Grail. We can balance and fade sound in certain sections of the car now, but for the future we’re looking at a scenario where someone in the back of the car making a private phone call wouldn’t be bothered by what the driver’s playing, or the front passenger could be listening to rock while the rear passenger streams classical with no interference. It’s not just about music either. We have to deal with vocal integration, parking sensors and every other sound inside a car.
I completed a two-month international placement in Portland, USA, to work in the Jaguar Land Rover open-source technology centre. While I was there, I worked on developing a driving simulator, which is almost like a computer game that uses real-time inputs from a vehicle rig and surrounds the ‘driver’ with curved screens that fill their peripheral vision. We also use lots of cutting-edge technologies in-house that are developed for specific jobs.
What be your advice to young people looking to pursue a career in engineering?
I would encourage them to try to get some work experience in different areas of engineering and science to see what they do and don’t enjoy. If you know that you like problem solving but are not sure what type of engineering you want to study, many universities offer a common engineering first-year curriculum that you can then narrow down and focus on a specialist field in subsequent years.
Another piece of advice is to try find an engineer in the type of area you could see yourself working in, and sit down with them. Ask them about their job, what it involves and what their course was like. Having someone with experience to test your ideas with will really help you decide what is right for you.