Chris Acheson (MPhys MInstP) is a recent graduate who wanted to share some advice.
I graduated with an MPhys from Edinburgh in 2018. During my degree I was fortunate enough to undertake a summer industry placement at Bright Ascension, the cubesat software company at CodeBase. (This was offered through the School’s Career Scholarship Programme as one of their industry placements)
I have just started a job at the Robinson Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand where I have joined the space team – the aim of the group is to find new applications for superconductors in space technologies.
Without a doubt, the reason I got the job was the internship at Bright Ascension,who have a really good reputation even here in New Zealand.
Sara Evers shares her experience at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics
When a friend told me about the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, I decided to apply without knowing very much about it. The first surprise came when I got invited and shortly after found out that two other girls from my year were attending. We decided to book tickets for the same trains, and we ended up on a six-hour train journey to Oxford together.
Since our train left Edinburgh very early in the morning, we
had a few hours in Oxford before the conference started and decided to visit
some sights, including the History of Science museum, which fittingly included
an exhibition of remarkable women in science. That evening, the conference
started with a welcome reception and buffet. There we got to meet many of the
other girls attending from all over the UK and Ireland.
The first full day of the conference started with a visit of Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (RAL), a national research facility, with a range of different departments and areas of research. The most exciting part for me was the particle accelerator ISIS, the onsite muon and neutron source. Apart from that, the facilities host a central laser facility, a space research and engineering department and many other interesting facilities. Apart from the tours, we also got a series of talks from several female engineers working at RAL, who told us about their work, how they got where they are today and also about internship and graduate opportunities at RAL.
In the afternoon, we got a talk from Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro from UCL, who told us about her research and her inspiring career path and the challenges she faced along the way. After that we got to attend different workshop. I took part of a medical physics workshop. As someone who has always been interested in medicine and biology, being able to meet and talk to three medical physicists and getting lots of information about the different career options and training schemes was very insightful.
On the second day, we started off with two talks. The first
speaker was Doctor Francesca Day, who is both a theoretical particle physicist
at Cambridge University and a stand-up comedian. She gave a talk about Science,
Creativity and Stereotypes, talking both about her personal story and research
and about general gender and inequality issues in Physics. The second speaker
was Ms Carole Kenrick, a resident scientist working in primary schools in
London, where she is trying to get young children invested and interested in science.
After the talks in the morning, we got a tour through some of
the laboratories at Oxford University. I got to see a particle physics lab,
where they worked on detectors for ATLAS, the particle accelerator and detector
in Switzerland. We also saw a group working on producing solar cells out of
biomaterials and some groups working on telescopes in the Astronomy department.
In the afternoon we got another talk from Dr Rain Irshad, who was talking about her career in space science, starting with her aim to become an astronaut and the many setbacks and changes in life, and how she ended up working at RAL space. Following her talk, there was a career panel, with six physicists who are now pursuing careers outside physics (e.g. Patent law, data science, government adviser). To me, this showcased the many opportunities I will have with a physics degree. The day ended with an informal chat with different scientists and PhD students at Oxford University, where we got to ask questions in a very relaxed atmosphere.
The conference ended on Sunday with a talk from Dr Suchitra Sebastian, talking about combining a career in physics with having a personal life and an academic panel. Attending this conference benefitted me in many different ways. Hearing from all the physicists about their work and their career path inspired me a lot. At the same time, I got to realise how many different career options there are with a degree in physics and how one can get into these different areas. On top of that, it was very motivating to hear about all the setbacks people had to overcome but still made it to where they are today. I now have a better understanding of what it means to do physics research both in academia and industry and what alternatives there are.
On a more practical level, I got to hear about several internship programmes, some of which I will definitely apply for next year, as well as information on postgraduate studies and funding, which will be very helpful in a few years’ time.
But the most inspiring aspect of the conference wasn’t even the great programme, but that I got to meet so many female physicists and physics students, all very passionate about this subject. Being used to usually having a male majority in every single lecture and workshop, sitting in a lecture theatre full of female physicists is quite an empowering feeling. Over the weekend, I got to meet so many great and inspiring people and made many great connections and friendships that will hopefully last for a long time. I’m very grateful to both the organisers of the conference, especially the main organiser Professor Daniela Bortoletto, and the School of Physics and Astronomy at Edinburgh University, who enabled us to attend the conference by covering our travel costs to Oxford.
Thanks to Jennifer Edwards from Lockheed Martin for her guest blogpost. It’s good to get an insight into where physics & astronomy can take you and how the knowledge and skills you develop can be applied.
I graduated from the University of Southampton in the summer of 2018 with a Masters Degree in Physics with Astronomy. When I began my degree, I was unsure as to what career path I hoped to end up on, but explored by doing two summer placements as an engineer during my studies.
The first was for Archangel Aerospace Ltd. as a Systems Integration Engineer working on UAV design, and the second working for Rolls-Royce as a Development Engineer. I found that I really enjoyed applying the Physics ‘textbook knowledge’ I had learnt, and that the critical thinking and analysis skills I had learnt on my degree benefited me hugely in my work.
Lockheed Martin UK’s graduate scheme provides the opportunity to partake in four placements over a two-year period. Initially, I was concerned that going into an engineering company without having an engineering degree would hinder me or that I would find myself behind the other graduates, but that was not the case. As well as building technical skills and knowledge from across the company, the scheme provides the opportunity to develop skills such as management skills, application of the engineering life-cycle, and teamwork and communication skills.
I started the graduate scheme in September 2018 as a Systems Engineer – an interdisciplinary field of engineering that primarily focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their life cycle. My first placement involved modelling and simulation of re-entry vehicles, achieved by running bespoke prediction codes and statistical analyses. My Physics degree provided me with a good background level of knowledge of key physical phenomenon and some coding skills, however it was the ability to grasp new information quickly that was the most significant advantage.
I am currently working on operational analysis on a research and development project, for which I am relying heavily on my background physics knowledge, including optics and thermodynamics. As well as this, many of the key ‘soft’ skills I learnt during University are used daily, such as independent learning, time management and communication skills. I would recommend looking into engineering for any physicists who are interested in applying their scientific knowledge to real-life problems, enjoy working in a team and have a desire to learn and develop new skills.
Jennifer also told me:
I hope this gets people thinking about career options in engineering as there’s a big UK shortage!
The recent black hole image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight linked telescopes – was rendered by Dr Bouman’s algorithm. Good article by Katy Steinmetz in Time Magazine online:
Though her work developing algorithms was a crucial to the project, Bouman sees her real contribution as bringing a way of thinking to the table. “What I did was brought the culture of testing ourselves,” she says. The project combined experts from all sorts of scientific backgrounds, ranging from physicists to mathematicians, and she saw the work through the lens of computer science, stressing the importance of running tests on synthetic data and making sure that the methods they used to make the image kept human bias out of the equation.
Bouman says that most of the time she’s not focused on the fact that she’s in a field where women are the minority. “But I do sometimes think about it. How do we get more women involved?” she says. “One key is showing that when you go into fields like computer science and engineering, it’s not just sitting in a lab putting together a circuit or typing on your computer.”
She plans to continue work with the Event Horizon Telescope team, which is adding satellite dishes in space to the network of telescopes here on Earth that were used to produce the image released on Wednesday. With the increased perspective and power, she says, they just might be able to make movies of black holes in addition to still images.
“It’s exciting,” she says. And that’s also her message for the next generation who might consider careers like hers. “As long as you’re excited and you’re motivated to work on it, then you should never feel like you can’t do it.”
Tracey Skivington, Electro-Optics Consultant, Thales UK
Tracey completed a B.Sc. (Hons) in Laser Physics and Optoelectronics followed by a Ph.D. in Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Strathclyde. From here, Tracey joined Thales as a laser engineer before moving into the field of electro-optics engineering.
Currently, Tracey works as an Electro-Optics Consultant within the Optronics and Missile Electronics (OME) domain within Thales.
Her area of expertise is in the modelling of electro-optics sensors across many different platforms, including land, sea and air. The sensor modelling includes, but is not limited to, colour TV cameras, laser rangefinders and designators, SWIR cameras, MWIR and LWIR Thermal Imaging technologies. Tracey also leads and manages the Glasgow OME Specialities team comprising of specialist engineers from disciplines in lasers, optics, electro-optics, algorithms and control systems.
Find out more about opportunities at Thales UK here
Ewan shows how a degree in Physics can take you in interesting directions.
Ewan Hemingway, Research Engineer, Canon Medical Research Europe
I first studied physics at Edinburgh University for the Computational Physics MPhys degree. I was interested in acoustics at the time and my Masters project looked at numerical modelling of guitar value amplifiers. However, one of the 5th year elective courses that really grabbed my attention was a series on soft matter physics, and this prompted me to pursue PhD opportunities. Following a recommendation, I joined an EPSRC-funded PhD in the Physics department at Durham University. There I worked on various problems in computational fluid dynamics, specifically in the area of active matter (the study of living fluids).
I was also lucky to gain some industrial experience through a consultation / research project with Schlumberger.
After my PhD, I stayed in Durham for two more years as a post-doc, where I focused on modelling flow instabilities in polymer physics.
Most recently, I joined Canon as a research engineer in the Image Analysis group. I have been there for just under a year, but already I have worked on a range of interesting problems, e.g., using deep learning for image segmentation.
Great roadshow organised by Ozi, IOP Scotland student rep, outside the Magnet café to raise awareness of the benefits of student membership. Their website, Physics World magazine, events programme and contacts can introduce you to a range of options and career advice. Find out more online
Charles Cockell, Professor of Astrobiology in the School of Physics and Astronomy talks about his job.
Tell us about the key parts of your role?
I teach a popular undergraduate course in astrobiology that is enormously enjoyable to deliver. I also set up and run a project in Scottish prisons called ‘Life Beyond’ to get prisoners to design stations for Mars. They’ve even published a book on their work.
The other side of my role is in research on life in extreme environments, space missions and other aspects of astrobiology. I try to get into the lab at least once a week if I can. It’s difficult with other duties, but doing science is a huge pleasure and particularly helping others get on their way to doing the same.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Freedom. Provided I’ve done what’s expected of my more formal roles – the freedom to walk into a prison and propose a new way of educating prisoners, the freedom to write a popular science book, the freedom to spend my lunch break designing and registering a Mars exploration tartan.
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
When I was 24, I designed and built a moth catching ultralight aircraft that I flew at dusk over the tropical rainforest canopy in Indonesia. I suppose you might regard it as a more serious phase of my interest in butterflies and moths. I flew with night vision goggles provided by the Dambusters (617) Squadron who were our expedition Patron.
I crashed the moth machine about two months into the expedition. Actually, I wouldn’t generally recommend catching moths using an aircraft.
Chloe was recognised as one of the Ogden Trust’s Outstanding Teach Physics interns for 2017 and received her award from Professor Arthur Trew, Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Edinburgh. You can find her blogpost here.
In 2017, 55 students were awarded Teach Physics internships at 36 schools in England & Wales. For most, it had only been a few years since they had left school themselves so it was interesting for them to taste school life from the other side of the (interactive) whiteboard!
Interns were asked to write a reflective diary, noting their observations about teaching styles, behaviour management, responses to learning and school administration, recording their own successes, and paying attention to their less successful moments. You can find their diaries, including Chloe’s award-winning one here
Chloe got in touch in June to say:
I was also successful in applying for the IOP Teach Physics scholarship and in September I will begin teacher training in Science with Physics (PGCE) via Durham SCITT, a programme recommended to me by the staff at Bishop Barrington School, my Ogden Trust placement.
In terms of advice for other students, the most helpful thing I can suggest is just to say ‘yes’! If an opportunity presents itself don’t let insecurities or worries stand in your way, just go for it. It might just help you figure out what really makes you happy.
Also, read the emails you get from the university and the Careers Service! That’s how I found the Ogden Trust internship and I can say with no doubt that it’s changed the course of my life (for the better, of course).
Broad advice, but that’s what I wish someone had told me!