Trying things out – teaching & science writing: student story

University of Edinburgh Physics & Astronomy student Sarah Rigby shares her summer work experiences and how they have helped her make some good career decisions.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to carry out two internships that helped me formulate my career plans much more solidly.

First of all, I spent a month at a secondary school in York doing a physics teaching placement, arranged by the Ogden Trust. While I started out simply observing lessons, by the time I left I was treated like a teaching assistant: not only did I work with individual students and small groups regularly, but I also got the chance to plan and deliver a whole lesson. On top of this, I ran an extracurricular club with the other intern, and of course I also had to put up a few displays. This gave me a well-rounded view of the different elements of a teacher’s job.

It’s often said that you don’t understand something unless you can explain it to someone; my understanding of chemistry and biology were definitely stretched at times! That said, having a strong foundation of physics knowledge helped me to explain things in a way I found intuitive, and sometimes to link different subject areas together to make useful analogies. I would definitely recommend the Ogden Trust’s Teach Physics internship to anyone who is considering a career in teaching, however unsure they are.

The month I spent there gave me a realistic view of life as a teacher, allowing me to make a very well-informed decision about my future career. Even though I won’t be pursuing a career in teaching, I’m really glad I got this opportunity. I really enjoyed the time I spent at the school, and I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to communicate effectively.

Shortly after this, I travelled to Bristol, where I spent two weeks doing work experience with BBC Focus Magazine, a science and technology publication. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got to write while I was there.

  • Most of what I contributed was published on the website, but one very short ‘Eye Opener’ piece – an extended caption to accompany a striking image – made it into the most recent print issue.
  • I wrote a feature on weird and wonderful pain relief
  • I contributed to the ongoing ‘This Day in Science History’ series
  • I interviewed a renowned cosmologist from MIT about his new book on artificial intelligence.

One skill that came in useful in particular was the ability to research a topic, quickly understand the basics, and distil it down to the essential and most interesting parts; for once, I was thankful that I’d done the group project the previous year!

I loved my time at the magazine: I was fascinated by the day-to-day organisation, especially leading up to their publication day, and I realised how much I love writing about science. This helped me to decide that I want to pursue a career in science communication once I graduate.

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How light and sound give physicists a clearer picture of cancer – UoE alumni success

Michal Tomaszewski, who graduated as the top student on Mathematical Physics degree, is currently working on his PhD in cancer research at Cambridge and you can listen to him explain his ground breaking work in this video clip

Michal followed an interesting path. He did a business internship in the City and gained experience from various financial institutions before he changed his path to cancer research.   Having done a purely theoretical degree he is now at home in a wet lab.

It just shows:

  1. it’s good to try different things to work out where your preferences lie
  2. starting in one area doesn’t mean you have to stay there
  3. no matter what you do, you develop personally and professionally from it

From Mathematical Physics to MThree Consulting

Mthree-web  tim woolins

Tim Woolins, Mathematical Physics graduate, University of Edinburgh

I have been working in production support through the Alumni Graduate Programme by MThree Consulting for just over a year, placed on the Deutsche Bank trade floor as a primary contact for front office, specifically the European Rates & Credit desks. My day to day work involves working with traders, developers & business analysts over a wide range of topics from risk/PnL to e-trading. To say it’s a challenging role would be fair, though not for the reasons I initially expected.

I quickly found that some skills I thought would be absolutely necessary to function in such an environment redundant, and things that I already had by virtue of my studies at university were far more valuable than I realised. I can safely say that being presented with a problem, and being able to take logical steps to find a solution on my own is one that I took for granted that I developed during my time at university.

If I could offer my former self one piece of advice, it would be to start earlier.

I knew I was not going into academia any further, and knowing orbital mechanics or quantum field theory is definitely not integral to my job, the value of the degree is in the underlying skills gained during your studies. Perhaps most useful of all is the ability to quickly understand new ideas and abstract concepts. Look over a wide variety of roles, for something you have a genuine interest in, and if you apply yourself you will excel with ease.

Tim Woolins, Production Support Analyst – MThree Alumni

 

Physics degrees and the Physics of trees

TreeHug

Hi, I’m Sam Henderson. I graduated with an MPhys from the University of Edinburgh about six months ago. In this career orientated post, I’m going to let you know about my EngD. Importantly, I’ll let you know how I got the job, as well as what I see as the pros and cons.

So, I graduated, hoorah. Like many people, I didn’t manage (nor did I want to) jump straight into a graduate scheme or PhD. As a reaction to five years I had spent hunched over a desk solving differential equations, I initially spent just looked for jobs that would get me outside. After a few discussions, I settled on criterion for the jobs I would look for.

Primarily, I wanted sensible hours. I know who I am, and there are too many books, films, games, mountains, valleys and people to read, see, play, explore and meet working entrepreneurial hours. Additionally, I didn’t want to spend the next few years of my life in front of a screen. So, I applied, and applied and applied and… nothing, until I saw a position in Forest Research (Forestry Commission’s research division) on the civil service jobs website.

I applied for it even though I wasn’t confident I met the criteria (I was right, I didn’t get the job or even an interview). However, my application was seen, spotted by the person who would become my boss. A few days later, I got an invitation to come to an interview, which turned into an offer, which turned into my job.

My EngD is a collaboration between the University of Surrey and Forest Research (the research division of the Forestry Commission). For those who don’t know, an EngD is a doctorate, but one where you primarily work in industry. This means that you get an amazing qualification, experience working for an employer, and, you get generally get paid more (roughly £18-24K tax free).

For those interested, in my project, I’m studying if and how changing water conditions can cause cracking inside living trees. To do this I’m using a combined experimental and computational approach. Experimentally, I’m using a custom-built MRI machine to look at the water distribution inside living trees. I’ll use the data from experiments to help me develop a computer model of the tree cells, which will incorporate realistic fluid dynamics.

I’ll admit I have had to make some compromises. Truthfully, a large amount of my work is desk-bound, and I have had some long days writing reports for deadlines.

On the other hand, I get to work in a scenic location on a project I care about, I get to cycle to work, I get to grow/perform experiments on real trees, and I generally have a regular 38 hour working week.

Something that is important to remember about EngDs, is that each project, and each company is different. Do your research, and, if you have the luxury, think about what is important to you.

My experience of reading a stranger’s words on the internet has been that I can only take one point away. If you feel the same, take with you the comforting fact that with some time and planning, and a bit of work, physics can probably get you where you want to go.

I’m totally happy to be contacted by email, if anyone wants any advice from a student who was in a similar place to them.  Sam Henderson j.s.henderson@surrey.ac.uk

Focus on: NHS Medical Physicist

Jonathan Dixon, University of Edinburgh physics graduate and NHS Medical Physicist joined me at my physics career drop-in last week and gave an excellent presentation.

He introduced the different areas you can choose to specialise in and the training route ( working while you qualify).  The opportunities for progression and professional are good and appeal to those who want to apply physics in a healthcare context.I have attached his slides with his contact details. medical-physics-jonathan-dixon-nhs-stp_edinburgh

He encouraged students to:

  • contact him for informal enquiries
  • try and get a visit to an NHS medical physics department or an Open Day
  • look at the Careers Service resouces on medical physicist

Open days in Edinburgh at the Western General are regularly advertised each year by our current contact Bill Nailon  email:Bill.Nailon@nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk

European Space Agency internship – UoE student success

Tara Bruendl is a 4th MPhysics student here at UoE who, despite failing first time round, has now successfully gained a placement this summer at the European Space Agency (ESA).  Over the summer she will be a guest blogger, telling you about her experience. Her first post is all about how she got the placement.

How did I find out about it?

Since developing an interest for space my dream to work for the European Space Agency (ESA) was created. After being rejected for an internship 2 years ago, I decided not to be disheartened and successfully applied to work placements at other space-related institution, namely the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research in 2014 and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in 2015.

Learning from the specialists in the field of solar system research equipped me with better analytical and practical skills as well as broadened my understanding of the research. The gained experience was very useful when being invited by my then supervisor from DLR for a Space Situational Awareness conference at one of ESA’s nine establishments.

By engaging in conversation with industry partners as well as an ESA employee and expressing a genuine interest in their field of expertise, it was possible to exchange contact details, which were the first stepping stone to securing the internship.

What did I have to consider when applying?

After an extensive email exchange discussing my experience and the proposed project, a formal application needed to be submitted to the HR department  which needed approval. Besides the usual formalities such as a detailed CV and a cover letter, the application asked for past experience and projects as well as my future intentions for undertaking a placement at ESA.

Especially important at this point was to show the relevance of the other work placements to this summer’s internship and emphasise how I completed given tasks and can apply the learned skills to their organisation. Working for the biggest and most influential space agency in Europe is an honour and I am very curious and excited for this journey to start.

Find out more about the European Space Agency

Find out more about the  ESA Academy Gravity-Related Research Summer School. Apply now – closing date 2 May 2016