A day in the life: Nathan Higgins

Get to know Nathan, a Research Assistant with SEATAC

Name: Nathan Higgins
Role: Research Assistant, SEATAC
Program: CAD Technician – Mechanical, Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Ivany Campus

What did you study? How did it factor into your career plans?

I studied mechanical design and drafting at NSCC, and graduated this past June, planning to go straight into the field. This opportunity with SEATAC is my first foray into the industry and has proven to be an incredible learning experience.

IT student Kenzie smiles at her desk while her computer shows lines of code

What brought you to SEATAC and your current position?

My drafting instructor came to me during my final semester and asked me if I would like an extra challenge. SEATAC was looking for summer research assistants and wanted one of the CAD Technician students to help with mechanical design and create detail drawings for manufacturing.

What’s something that has surprised you about working at SEATAC?

I came into this role expecting to be turning other people’s designs into drawings so that they could be manufactured, maybe doing some design or design changes along the way. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned I would be taking the lead on the mechanical design for my first project, as well as creating drawings. Of course, I’ve had plenty of help on the design end from my supervisor, Neil Laamanen.

What or who has made your SEATAC work term memorable?

I think the most memorable part was diving into the deep end right off the bat. I was still in classes and nearing the end of my final semester when I started here, so things were getting busy, and my team had to design a new product from the ground up in about a month and a half. It was an intense challenge for me, but I learned so much about mechanical systems and the design process. The feeling of getting that system complete and handing it over to the client was amazing.

IT student Kenzie shows her supervisor Laura an item of interest on her computer.

What project or area of your work has captivated you the most?

While the first project was interesting, this second one we are working on has been an even larger hurdle. We are designing some incredible contraptions for underwater use, involving electronics and moving parts, as well as some custom parts for SEATAC to keep on catalogue for future use!

How has your work at SEATAC further ignited your interest in ocean technology? 

For me, the sheer amount of problem-solving involved in ocean technology is the draw. Factoring in corrosion, visibility, ease of access, pressure, ocean life, electronics insulation and more to make a system 

that leaves minimal impact but works in a hostile environment: that’s a really interesting challenge.

What skills or knowledge have you gained from your work term that will benefit your future career?

The entire experience so far has taught me so much. I’ve gotten to interact with clients, I’m working as a part of a great team, I get to lead the design of the mechanical aspects while taking electronics into consideration, and I get to practice my time management skills.

What advice would you give to students considering an internship or work term with SEATAC? 

It’s an amazing opportunity, don’t pass it up. Prepare for more than you expect going into it but expect to have a good time. Lastly, keep an open mind! Be ready to adapt to changing constraints and workflow.

A day in the life


6:45 am – Wake up, get out of bed, get changed. Dressing for work is casual, so I freestyle my outfit every day. I put together my lunch for the day, then eat some toast for breakfast. Love me some peanut butter!

7:20 am – Finish freshening up for the day and start my commute. I live almost an hour away and a lot of the drive is along the tree line, so time to keep my head on a swivel for those deer!

8:00 am – Grab a coffee from McDonald’s if I am feeling extra tired. I’m not a fan of hot coffee, so I always go with iced.

8:25 am – Arrive in the parking lot, grab my backpack, and head inside the Design and Innovation Centre at Ivany Campus. I say ‘hi’ to my supervisor and project partner, then set up my laptop and dig out my binder for sketching.

8:35 am – Chat about where everyone is at with their work, and where we plan to go from here. I’m in charge of the mechanical design and drafting for this project. My partner does the electronics design, and my supervisor supports both of us.

9:00 am – Heads down and I get into my sketching, occasionally bouncing ideas off my team, and vice versa. Once I’m happy with the design, I start fleshing it out with some parametric 3D modelling.

11:00 am – My supervisor comes to me and says the heat exchanger on SEATAC’s research boat has split apart and we need a replacement. I drop what I’m doing to head to the boat’s location to take off the broken part.


12:00 pm – We head back to the D&IC with the part in tow. I wash my hands, then have some lunch while I start researching the mechanics and key features of heat exchangers. This one pulls in seawater to cool the fuel and oil lines. 

1:00 pm – I take measurements of the old part with some calipers and begin 3D modelling them using Autodesk Inventor. I must keep in mind that the replacement part will be fabricated using SEATAC’s metal 3D printer, so I need to minimize the number of overhangs in the model. The less support material I include in the design, the better we’ll be able to keep cost and print time down.

3:40 pm – My team talks about our progress at the end of the day before packing up and saying our goodbyes. I start my commute home.


5:00 pm – I get home and eat supper. Mom is an excellent cook, and this time of year, chances are she will be barbecuing. She makes great hamburgers!

7:00 pm – Time to relax for the evening. I love to practice guitar in my downtime and maybe play a few games!

10:00 pm – I head to bed and rest up for the night.