Graduate Profile

George Robertson

MSci, Physics with Electronics 1994

George is currently an engineer

with the Digital TV Group in London


My fresh faced arrival in St Andrews, back in 1990, was actually intended to be the start of a career in Chemistry. I had loved the kind of Chemistry taught at school and I expected this to continue. I soon realised that I was on the wrong track, however, and moved to physics.

The Physics department welcomed me with open arms and were able to explain, in great detail, the finer points of ionic and covalent bonding ('Physical' Chemistry) that had so excited me at school. I think it's fair to say that physics is just about the best grounding one can have in analytical thinking and problem solving: although I didn't take Physics ‘any further' than my BSc, I would have been lost without it.

I've been back to the department in recent years and many of the old faces are still there. It's a very friendly department and, when I had troubles (and I did), people were willing to listen and to help. For example, in the summer of 1993, I wanted to do voluntary work in Romania - all I had to do was get there. The Physics department was able to help me with my air fare, allowing me to ‘enjoy' my first ever flight on a bumpy old Tarom Tupolev!

After St Andrews I went to York University and did a Masters degree in Music. This seemed an entirely natural thing to do at the time, and most people seem to get the connection. I have loved music and played all my life, and people always point out to the commonalities between music and physics.

My post-graduate year in York year was fantastic. I was playing, writing and recording non-stop. St Andrews, with the Music Service in the Younger Hall and scores of opportunities to play music, had allowed me to keep alive my other love while studying for a degree. Physics had also programmed me to get along with the new music, minimalist and electro-acoustic, which I was being exposed to.

I then moved north again to Glasgow University and, with a background of Physics and Music, I of course landed in the Computing Science department as a researcher. Again, this seemed natural enough. We collaborated with Cambridge and many Scottish institutions, looking at audio and video over fast computer networks. This seemed like a big deal back in 1995, although it is child's play now!

One afternoon, after a bit of a boozy lunch on Byres Road, I applied online for a job at BBC R&D. I got it! It must have been about then that I started to become an engineer.

In my time at the BBC I did everything from drive the mixing desk for Woman's Hour to nearly reversing a large truck over Jim Davidson's Jaguar. I worked mostly at Kingswood Warren (a sort of broadcast version of Bletchley Park), and very often in collaboration with industry, to produce prototype versions of new digital TV and radio technology. I was also able to travel a great deal, working with groups such as MPEG, the EBU and TV-Anytime.

I then travelled north again, taking a job with Panasonic in Edinburgh. I was by this point a pretty much paid-up engineer and I got my Chartered Engineer status. Having a Physics degree from St Andrews did help here. At Panasonic I had the pleasure of working on 'real things' that you could actually go out and buy! I cannot stress enough the satisfaction of seeing something you have built actually get used by other human beings. Some people may prefer a life in the lab, or writing papers that get published in Nature, but if you want real satisfaction - go out and build something!

Around this time, maybe 2001, Panasonic had to withstand accumulated losses and write-offs of about $5 Billion. Not all of that down to me either. The lab in Edinburgh was closed a couple of years later and I had the job of negotiating redundancy settlements with management. Now, I'm not sure how many great Trade Unionists St Andrews has produced over the years, but I urge people to have an open mind. Sometimes you need a voice in the world. Sometimes things just don't go your way.

Battered and bruised I returned to St Andrews as a Research Fellow in the Computer Science department. It was good but strange coming back, and I have never felt as old as when I walked back into ‘the Union' after twelve years of abstinence. Little had changed, apart from me.

I had thoughts of becoming a lecturer, and getting a permanent post at a University. Perhaps even at St Andrews. My advice is this – if you feel you may want a career in academia, get a PhD early. I realised I had hit the ceiling.

I went back to the loving arms of industry (and a higher income tax bracket) and I now work at the Digital TV Group (DTG) in London. It's an exciting time with many countries now looking to the UK (and the DTG) to lead the way in television. HD is now a reality (on satellite and cable) and we're now working on HD for terrestrial TV.

Systems such as Super Hi-Vision (using more than 4,000 lines) are in development and 3D TV is coming too – in fact, several hours of 3D content are broadcast each week in Japan.