- How to apply for graduate school?
- How to pick a field of research?
- Why pursue further education in physics?
- What options are available outside the UK?
- What can someone expect from a graduate programme?
- What can you do with a physics degree?
- Do you need a PhD to pursue certain careers?
- What if your interests lay slightly outside physics?
- Can you conduct new scientific research outside a university setting?
- How can you find careers outside academia?
Marina is a nuclear physicist who was born in Greece but built her research career across Greece, the UK, the USA and Germany before returning to the UK in 2016 to take up a Royal Society University Research Fellowship at the University of York. Marina studies the structure of the atomic nuclei, i.e. how protons and neutrons arrange themselves and how they interact among each other to form complex nuclei, which has a decisive impact on everyday life, from the very existence of carbon-based life on Earth to critical nuclear physics applications such as carbon dating. Our understanding of nuclear structure is still elusive and relies on sophisticated experiments that deliver critical observables of atomic nuclei. For example, Marina’s experiments use particle accelerators that smash nuclei traveling at up to 50% the speed of light on stationary material to induce nuclear reactions. Typically, fewer than one in a million reactions will create the nucleus under study and she measures the time it lives in a specific state, about a billionth of a second.
Kristina is a second year PhD student working at the University of Manchester and in collaboration with The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, after completing an MPhys in Theoretical Physics at the University of York. Her project involves exploring the use of very high-energy electrons in cancer treatment, specifically the way that they damage DNA and so kill cancerous cells. This work is carried out using a combination of computational modelling in Geant4 and plasmid irradiation experiments using the CLARA and CLEAR electron accelerators at Daresbury Laboratory and CERN. Aside from physics, Kristina spends time watching and taking part in athletics, playing the piano and baking.
Sarah Williams is a college lecturer and fellow in physics at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge, having previously worked as a physics lecturer at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on searches for new particles using the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, with a particular focus on searching for particles that could help explain what dark matter is made of.
Dr Jessica Louise Boland is a Lecturer in functional materials and devices within the Photon Science Institute and School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Manchester. She was awarded her DPhil in Condensed Matter Physics from the University of Oxford for her work on terahertz spectroscopy of semiconductor nanowires for device applications in 2017. Following on from her DPhil, she was awarded an EPSRC Doctoral prize to continue this work at the University of Oxford and succeeding in developing novel nanowire-based THz devices. She then moved to the University of Regensburg in Germany, where she was awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt research fellowship to employ mid-infrared scanning near-field optical microscopy to 2D topological insulator thin films and nanostructures. In the same year, she was awarded the Institute of Physics Jocelyn Bell Burnell medal and prize in recognition of her substantial contribution to physics and work to support and encourage others in the field. In particular, she is a passionate advocate for accessibility in STEM and promotes the use of British Sign Language in STEM through her SignScience Twitter campaign and website. Her current research is focused on the development of near-field terahertz microscopy for surface-sensitive characterisation of the electrical conductivity of topological insulators and 2D materials with sub-picosecond temporal and nanometre-spatial resolution. She aims to pave the way for the next-generation of nanoscale devices that are faster, smarter and more energy-efficient.
I have always been fascinated by finding out ‘how things work’. Therefore, I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and study Physics in Amsterdam, my hometown. During the study which included Astronomy in the first year, a friend and I decided that we liked both physics and astronomy and didn’t want to choose between the two topics for our degrees, so after 6 years of study, including two years of practical work in physics- and astronomy research groups, we finished with doctorates in each (equivalent to Master’s degrees), the only students to do this! My friend proceeded doing her PhD in Astronomy, but I preferred spanners and screwdrivers to workstations, so I chose a PhD in experimental molecular physics at the FOM-Institute in Amsterdam, a government-funded research laboratory. During my PhD on ‘The Study of Intramolecular Dynamics using Time-Resolved Spectroscopy and Electron-Ion Coincidence Techniques’, I worked in an international team of students and postdocs, gaining experience in working with lasers, vacuum equipment, experiment design, but also in lots of transferable skills such as problem analysis and solving, giving 10-45 min presentations, writing articles and a thesis. After my PhD I decided to change field from ‘blue sky’ laser physics to research where lasers were applied to biological systems. I came to the Physical & Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory in Oxford as a postdoc, to study the conformational landscape of small biomolecules (e.g. amino acids, small neurotransmitters, sugars) in the gas phase, using IR and UV pump-probe spectroscopy combined with computations. After four years I obtained a 10-year Royal Society University Research Fellowship, which allowed me to form my own research group. My interest was now in slightly larger systems such as small, biologically active peptides like opiates and fragments of Alzheimer-related proteins. I also started lecturing and supervising students. Two children were born during this time, and after maternity leave I came back to work four days per week, having found a nice childminder to look after the kids. Although the University has all kinds of family-friendly schemes and programmes in place, it ultimately didn’t work out satisfactorily, and I decided to stop with a ‘normal’ scientific career. After the last PhD student finished, I took on free-lance work at OUP as a library researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary. Here I investigated the historical usage and occurrence of scientific words from diverse fields such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, dentistry, engineering, geology, mathematics, medicine, physics and zoology. Online and library ‘detective skills’ were required for discovering e.g. the first time use of words, and linguistic skills for reading manuscripts from the 17th Century onwards. Being free-lance was an excellent way to combine work and family life, and because it was highly enjoyable and satisfying work, I’ve been doing it until July 2018. In the meantime I also took on part-time postdoctoral posts in the Materials and Physics Departments in Oxford, thoroughly enjoying the freedom of being a sort of ‘consultant’ on projects which ranged from designing a gas probe for the synthesis of carbon nanotubes, and improving the thermal conductivity of epoxy resins and coolants for use in F1 racing car engines, to helping to design a thin film evaporator for perovskite materials. Recently, when attending a laser safety course in the Physics Department, I found out that the Department was recruiting for a Laser Safety Officer. I applied and got the (permanent) job. I find it important to try to understand the physics behind the researchers’ laser experiments in order to advise them about the best safety measures/aspects, and for this it really helps having had such a wide experience in the physical sciences. I’m working full-time now with two part-time jobs, something I’m happy to do as my children have just started secondary school.
Laurel is a first year DPhil student in astrophysics from New York, with a background in medicine and chemistry. She did high energy gamma research for the Cherenkov Telescope Array in 2015-2016, then took a circuitous route through medical school in the States before solidifying her passion in astrophysics and returning to start her DPhil in Oxford. Her current work is on exoplanet detection and characterisation with Suzanne Aigrain's group. She also enjoys rowing, painting and creative writing.
Dr Alex Ramadan is a physical chemist working in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford. She is passionate about renewable energy and her research focus is on developing new materials for cheaper, more efficient photovoltaics. Currently her work is on "lead halide perovskites" a new class of materials which are currently touted as the next big development in solar energy.
Karoline van Gemst
Karoline van Gemst is a first year Phd student in the Geometry and Mathematical Physics group at the University of Birmingham. She undertook undergraduate studies in Mathematical Physics at The University of Edinburgh and went on to complete an MSc in Pure Mathematics at Imperial College London. Despite her focus having now moved towards pure mathematics, her interests are highly motivated by and connected to physics. Topics of interest include mirror symmetry which has roots in string theory, and quantum cohomology, which has intimate connections with integrable systems.
Gemma completed an MPhys in Physics at the University of Oxford and a DPhil in Particle Physics also at the University of Oxford. As part of her DPhil, she spent two years at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s highest energy particle accelerator. She continued the work of her DPhil as a Research Fellow at the University of Michigan, based at CERN, working towards the discovery of the Higgs boson, which was found in July 2012.
After her Research Fellowship, Gemma moved to EIP, an IP law firm, where she qualified as a UK and European patent attorney. Her work now includes the drafting and prosecution of patent applications relating to physics technology. She has particular experience in the fields of display device technology, image processing and artificial intelligence.
Ellie is the lead analyst for surface transport at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which provides independent advice to government on climate change policy. Managing development of a range of models, she delivers evidence to government and industry about the cost effective way to decarbonise the transport sector. Most recently, the Government has asked the CCC to advise on whether to set a new more ambitious long-term emissions reduction target, which the CCC will report on in May.
She completed a Masters in Physics at the University of Bath, including a six month placement in particle physics at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. This placement led to her completing a DPhil in Particle Physics at Oxford University, working on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.
After her PhD, Ellie joined the Government Operational Research Service Fast Stream. Her two roles in the Home Office included a technical role developing bespoke software and a strategic role leading a team in providing analysis for plans to combat drug smuggling, reduce queues at passport control and optimise usage of public money. To gain a wider range of experience, Ellie moved to HMRC to model the tax gap– analysing the difference between the amount of tax due to HMRC and the amount paid. Ellie graduated the fast stream after earning promotion to her current role.
Ellie uses and develops skills from her physics background every day, including number crunching, being able to explain complicated concepts and limitations of the modelling to non-technical audiences and using problem solving to find simple ways to model complex real world situations.
Ellie Dobson currently heads the R&D efforts at Arundo Analytics, a Norwegian/US based product and services startup who specialise in IOT analytics for asset heavy industries. Ellie spent most of her early life in Northumberland planning to be a musician but did a rather unexpected U-turn at the age of 18, and after a brief foray into teaching ended up reading physics at Oxford University. She was awarded her PhD in 2009 in particle physics, and spent a few subsequent years hunting Higgses in the ATLAS detector as part of the LHC project. Looking for a new challenge, she then took a job as a field engineer at MathWorks, the company behind MATLAB, specialising in the productisation of machine learning and parallel computing. Following that she worked at Pivotal Software as a senior data scientist, building and deploying predictive models in industry verticals ranging from formula one to fashion analytics. In her spare time she likes to do anything that involves being outdoors in beautiful Norway and spending time with her partner Erik and young daughters.
Sarwat is a Commercialisation Associate at Cambridge Enterprise, where she works in the Technology Transfer team (Physical Sciences). Prior to joining Cambridge Enterprise, Sarwat worked in innovation consulting: firstly as an Associate at Cambridge Innovation Consulting, then as a Senior Analyst at Oakland Innovation.She also has experience working in industry - she was a Device Fabrication Engineer at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, developing next-generation displays. Sarwat has an MSci in Chemistry from the University of Bristol and an MRes in Photonic Systems Development from the University of Cambridge, where she is about to complete her PhD in optoelectronic devices.
Katie studied at the University of Cambridge, graduating with an MSci in Experimental and Theoretical Physics and a PhD on flexoelectricity in liquid crystal materials for display devices. Upon graduation, Katie remained at Cambridge to undertake a short postdoctoral position working on polymers for coronary stents in the Materials Science Department.
Katie then moved into industry and worked for Jaguar Land Rover in the Department of Materials Engineering, where she qualified as a Chartered Engineer. Her first role involved managing sheet aluminium and extrusions across all programmes. She then moved into the Product Integration and Quality team and helped improve the processes for materials selection across the business.
Whilst working in industry, Katie developed an interest in IP law. She completed the Graduate Diploma in Law, Legal Practice Course and then authored a Masters degree in Law (LLM) on the legal implications of autonomous cars whilst at Jaguar Land Rover. She is now working as a trainee solicitor at Allen & Overy and hopes to combine her interests in law and technology in the future upon qualification.
Dr Eleanor Chalkley is a Senior Manufacturing Engineer at the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forging Research Centre. She completed a PhD in advanced optical coatings for gravitational wave detectors at the University of Glasgow and has enjoyed an exciting career applying her passion for precision measurement and optics to topics including photolithography, robotic optical polishing and non-contact temperature measurement. At the Advanced Forging Research Centre, Dr Chalkley is focused on improving the practice of temperature measurement in extreme industrial environments.