This week, meet Lara Harris, a 2004 Derby graduate from our BSc (Hons) Music Technology and Audio System Design programme. From a budding audio enthusiast to a Research Fellow at Coventry University, Lara’s trajectory showcases the practical and theoretical grounding Derby provides. Her diverse roles across industry and academia, from Jaguar Land Rover to acoustics research, echo the enduring value of a Derby education. Now at the forefront of developing measurement systems for electric trucks, Lara’s journey exemplifies the expansive horizons awaiting our graduates.
Lara Harris, Class of 2004
Current job + employer:
Research Fellow in Digital Twin Measurement Systems, at the Institute for Advance Manufacturing and Engineering, Coventry University.
What did you do/study prior to coming to Derby?
A-level Physics with a BTEC in Music technology and performance.
Why did you choose to go to the University of Derby?
I just remember I wanted to study exactly what the course seemed to be offering.
Did you start the course with a specific focus or were you undecided?
I wanted to work on something technical in audio, but at that point I didn’t really know what the options were other than sound engineering.
Did that focus change on the course? If so, how?
I’d say the focus didn’t really change but my understanding of options for careers in audio engineering expanded as I learned more on the course, and I was able to follow those newfound interests (though they were still more on the technical rather than creative path).
Has that focus changed on graduating? If so, how?
By the time I graduated, I’d learned a bit about a lot of things and it made me want to learn more and become more specialised, so by that point I knew I wanted to do more advanced studies.
What was the most useful thing you learned on the course?
How to solder – got me my first job after graduation! But the practical and theoretical electronics knowledge I gained more broadly is still serving me very well to this day. All the work we did on psychoacoustics and spatial audio came in very useful during my years in acoustics research.
What did you learn on the course that you thought you’d never use, but that has come in handy during your career?
The concept of cartoonification that Peter Lennox taught us in relation to representing sound fields. I’ve thought of it quite often in different contexts, and find it a useful model in the research I’m doing now even though it has nothing to do with spatial audio.
What did you do on the course that you never thought you would enjoy?
Realtime audio processing in C++, and I was right – I am still as baffled by it now as I was then, despite many, many years of programming experience in the intervening period.
What was your favourite establishment in Derby (pub, bar, club, restaurant, etc.)?
The Five Lamps
What is your most memorable moment from Derby?
Hearing music for the first time through the valve-powered phono stage that I’d designed and built for my final year project. I couldn’t believe that it worked, let alone sounded good.
What/who at Derby most influenced your life, and how/why?
Peter Lennox, who suggested that I consider postgrad studies, but I learned so much over the course that I think it just broadened my horizons and gave me a lot of new options to consider, and prepared me well for whichever one I wanted to pursue.
What would you say to a Derby first year student, knowing what you know now?
Make the most of being on the edge of one of the most beautiful bits of scenery in the world – visit the Peak District! I never did until years later.
What have you done professionally since graduating?
It’s been a mix of industry and academia, mostly related to audio or acoustics in some way across a variety of sectors including aerospace, automotive, and manufacturing. My first job after graduating was as a systems engineer doing a lot of practical electronics which I was only able to do because my degree had such a high level of technical and applied content. My MSc was in acoustics and applied signal processing, which I’d become interested in through my undergrad course at Derby. My PhD was in acoustics too, and during that time I also worked as a contract researcher on industrial aeroacoustics projects (aircraft noise) at the Rolls Royce University Technology Centre at Southampton. My next industry job was in the audio team at Jaguar Land Rover where I was responsible for microphones on all vehicle models; here I needed not just my technical audio background but also to work with teams in the wider signal chain, so my modules in communication theory served me well here. When I returned to academia I joined the acoustics group at Salford University, mainly thanks to the psychoacoustics knowledge I’d gained at Derby and built on during my PhD. I worked on a range of acoustics research projects there, both academic and commercial (collaborating with industry), including: measuring acoustic properties of facemasks, designing alert sounds for e-scooters, preparing machine learning datasets for automatic sound classification, and developing procedures in our UKAS-accredited commercial laboratories to offer the highest metrological level of microphone calibration currently available in the UK. I’m now a researcher at the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering at Coventry University, developing measurement systems for digital twins, specifically for a novel electric truck that aims to revolutionise on-demand logistics for millions of people in emerging economies that need to transport goods for their livelihood. It requires a holistic view of measurement systems and sensors, so all that electronics and communications foundational knowledge I gained at Derby is coming in handy yet again!
Have any Derby alumni or staff opened any doors for you? If so, who?
Not directly but it’s good to still be in touch with some people who I studied with and to see what they went on to do.
What is your most memorable moment from your career so far?
Driving through the Cambridgeshire countryside in summer with the top down in a new Jaguar F-Type (not mine; I was testing it as part of my role in the audio team at JLR. Wind noise was causing havoc with the quality of hands-free calls).
What are your future career plans/ambitions?
Keep working on exciting projects at the cutting edge of industry and academia, and never stop learning new things.