Here we  feature some of the faces you’ll see around Harvest City Church and dig a bit deeper into who they are and how they live for Christ in their daily lives.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Nick Goffin. I am 27 years old, with one (younger) sister. I was born and grew up in Leicester. I’ve been in church all my life and part of this church ever since Chip started it.

My current occupation is as a Research Associate at the Centre for SMART at Loughborough University, where I am working on “laser annealing of photovoltaics”; using lasers to manufacture solar panels. I am also finishing my PhD, which involves using lasers and holograms for metal processing. I’ve found that going into more detail than that tends to send people to sleep.

What was the deciding factor in pursuing a PhD?

I’ve always loved engineering, inventing things and coming up with new ideas. When I was little, my friends used to play with Action Man or Power Rangers; I used to sketch out designs for aeroplanes. The designs were all rubbish because I knew nothing about aerodynamics, but I loved doing them. I was always asking the “what if” question.

I also remember a time when I was 12 and my dad let me watch Armageddon (I was excited because it was my first 12 certificate film). Afterwards, he had to spend an hour with me going through the mathematics of asteroid impacts and nuclear weapons, because I kept asking annoying questions (I think it was around that time that he stopped watching science fiction with me).

This was the deciding factor that lead me do a PhD and going into research, because a PhD is basically a project devoted to answering “what if”. With a PhD, you have a subject, and you have to do research on it that has never been done before. It was a chance to indulge my curiosity and get paid for it, with an avenue into doing that kind of thing professionally. What wasn’t to like?

Can anyone pursue a PhD or is it only for certain individuals and careers?

Although a PhD is an academic qualification, it is not the same as a degree. It is actually closer to an apprenticeship in that instead of having lessons or lectures, you undertake a research project under a supervisor, who teaches you how to do research ‘on the job’. At the end of this, you submit a thesis about what you’ve done, which is then judged and you pass or fail.

Anyone can pursue a PhD if they meet the entry requirements, generally a degree in a relevant field. For my PhD in laser manufacturing I needed at least a 2:1 MEng degree in an engineering discipline; a degree in English Literature or Psychology would not have counted. Assuming that you have the right qualifications, it is a matter of finding a project that you are interested in and a good supervisor.

PhD’s are not well paid by engineering standards and do not necessarily lead to higher paid jobs afterwards. You should only do it if you really want to do it. I don’t know anyone studying a PhD who did it for the money. If you are a naturally curious person and love to find out how things work then it might suit you.

The type of career depends on the discipline. In engineering, a PhD is useful for any career that involves research. It is practically a requirement for becoming a university lecturer, and lots of PhD holders can be found in the R&D departments of companies.

At the moment you are studying and working as a Research Associate. How do you ensure that your time and attention are being equally divided in order to succeed in both?

It is not easy and right now it is beginning to really stress me out. The nature of the job works in my favour though, because in research projects there are times when there is loads to do and times when you’re waiting for equipment to arrive or computers to finish calculating or whatever and there is almost nothing to do. So far I’ve managed to arrange the periods of downtime such that I can work on one project while waiting for things to happen in the other one. That, and working a few extra hours. The good news is that my PhD will be finished in a couple of months, and I’ll be able to relax a bit.

Are there ever any days when you feel under too much pressure, or overwhelmed with work and deadlines? How do you deal with that?

I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve felt that I have too many things to do, or when experiments aren’t working and I have no idea how I’m going to finish. There was a time a couple of years ago when I was convinced I was going to fail my PhD, because the laser was breaking down constantly and nothing was working.

I get past it by remembering the past. I remember how God has been with me every step, from GCSEs to A-levels, to my degree, through my degree, the way he guided me into my PhD and the frankly ridiculous set of coincidences that somehow all occurred at the same time to make it possible. The fact is that God has never let me down; although a few times He let it get close before actually intervening! The position that I am in now is one that he put me in, step by step, over the course of years; he will not fail me now.

It also helps having good people around me, who can encourage me when things look bad. My parents have always been incredibly supportive, even if their eyes tend to glaze over whenever I start to talk about my work.

You’re almost at the end of your PhD and your research job, how do you ensure that with such high achievements and having met your goals, your main focus is still God?

Short answer: With difficulty.

Long answer: The trap with studying a PhD is that you get so focussed on it, that you forget the higher things. It is easy to get focussed on the tangible things like experimental results, research papers and conferences; these things are physical and obvious. God is not physical and He is not obvious, which makes Him easy to neglect.

Church is the most important factor, I think. At church, I am mixing with people from different backgrounds with different ways of looking at things, which prevents me from getting locked into the research mind-set. I am very cerebral and, if I’m honest, not particularly spiritual in my thought processes. I love the fact that church provides me with people who help me to compensate for those weaknesses.

Also, keeping church as a priority lets me put my work in its proper place. Sure I have achieved lots of things, hopefully I will achieve more, but if I’m not doing it for God then I might as well not be doing it at all. I cannot allow my work to become an end in itself. Church is the anchor that keeps me rooted to the right spot. My identity is in Him and who He is, not in myself and my career. Houses built on sand and all that.

Nick is a Research Associate at the Centre for SMART at Loughborough University and serves in multiple roles in the church, including as a JC teacher and as part of the worship team.