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From Cars to Spaceships: New Graduate Callan Murphy Is Going Places

Jun. 18, 2024
Callan Murphy has been balancing a part-time role on Tesla’s cell engineering software team with his undergraduate studies in computer science and astrophysics.

Callan Murphy has been balancing a part-time role on Tesla’s cell engineering software team with his undergraduate studies in computer science and astrophysics. (All photos supplied)

By Cynthia Macdonald

Callan Murphy’s career is one that’s already very much in motion—whether he’s contemplating a future in space exploration or working on battery development at Tesla. While a member of Victoria College, Murphy has been balancing a part-time role on the automotive giant’s cell engineering software team with full-time studies as a double major in computer science and astrophysics.

Along the way, he’s engaged in pursuits as varied as finance, musical theatre and intramural hockey. On June 17, Murphy will graduate into a world where his skills as a technological innovator will be in demand on Earth and possibly even beyond: for him, the sky isn’t the limit.

Why combine computer science with astrophysics?

I’ve always liked math: obviously computer science and physics overlap in that respect. But for me, computer science has led to more practical applications of activities I really enjoy, like helping companies find efficient solutions and save time. Whereas astrophysics appeals to my interest in understanding the world from a philosophical standpoint — asking the bigger questions that science tries to answer about the universe.

What did you like about studying at U of T?

While academics were important, things like the extracurriculars and breadth of learning outside of the classroom — even the history and architecture — were what I appreciated most about U of T. The college system was also really effective, because I was in a smaller community where I knew a lot of people and was able to get involved and connected.

While spending a year in the Vic One program, I found out about a lot of opportunities. I performed in a show with the drama society, started playing intramural hockey and was a residence don helping first-year students, which I really liked. As finance chair of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), it was great to get experience managing money and to both work and make friends with people who were in completely different programs than I was.

Tell us about your experience working for Tesla.

Tesla was always a company that I looked fondly upon— hey’re really trying to improve how we look at the world and solve problems that are facing us. I first joined the company in 2022. The computer science department had a program where they matched you with a mentor; you had meetings to chat about interview skills, job hunting and so forth. I found that was very valuable preparation.

I then got my foot in the door, and I’ve been working on the cell engineering team full-time during the summers and part-time during school. It’s been a unique experience. Something I’ve really enjoyed is that the team I work on creates software and data visualizations that help the manufacturing team build and track their output of batteries, which are primarily placed in cars but other products as well. To think that the numbers I provide are helping the team build an important physical product has been pretty cool.

What are your plans for the future?

The merger between computer science and astrophysics has led me to want to focus on space technology. I’d like very much to get involved with SpaceX, contributing my software and physics skills to help with massive projects such as the creation of reusable rockets, pushing space exploration forward again, and recharging the space industry—helping NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and other organizations go back to space and one day get to Mars. I think that’s really inspiring, and I hope to be a part of that endeavour.

We’ve been living through a technological revolution that shows no signs of stopping. In your corner of that revolution, what do you see happening in the near future?

I’m certainly optimistic; we live in an exciting time. We don’t necessarily know where the big surprises or breakthroughs are going to come, but by spending our time researching and practically testing which space technology solutions can be most efficient, environmentally friendly and valuable to society, we’ll also find applications that can be useful at ground level. These may, for example, help us improve subways or high-speed rail systems. In other words, I think advances in the space sector will also let people see advances in their daily lives.

(This article is courtesy of the University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science News.)

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