I’m very excited to have been selected to speak at Soapbox Science in Edinburgh on Sun 24th July, where I (along with eleven other scientists) will be getting up on wooden boxes in the city centre to talk about science. Everyone’s welcome – come along! Ahead of the big event, I spoke to Soapbox Science about inspiration, new challenges and the importance of science communication.
SS: How did you get to your current position?
My first degree was in physics at Lancaster University, where I really enjoyed my studies. My Master’s project was the highlight of my time there – I loved the open-ended nature of my work and the feeling that I was furthering scientific understanding. I also had a great supervisor who encouraged me to apply for PhD positions. During my time at Lancaster I took an optional course in quantum computing and was fascinated by it, so I decided that I wanted to study it further.
During my PhD, I am part of the Doctoral Training Centre in Condensed Matter Physics (CM-CDT), and have acted as an outreach co-ordinator for them. We’ve held events in schools, youth groups and science festivals. I’m also a STEM ambassador and am passionate about getting people interested in physics.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
My maths and physics college tutors were a massive inspiration for me. I particularly remember one Parents’ Evening, when my mum asked my physics tutor whether I would be disadvantaged as a woman in physics. My tutor looked at me and she said, “It’s not about whether you’re a girl; it’s whether you’re good at physics that counts.” That’s stuck with me over the years.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
I love how we can predict the behaviour of such small particles which often act in very strange ways. We can describe what they’re doing and then test it – and it’s so satisfying when those predictions turn out to be correct.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
I was attracted to the challenge! I’ve done lots of science communication but never anything like this before – so I really wanted to give it a go. I think the format is an excellent idea and I’m really excited to be a part of it. It’s really important that we get science out on the streets and show people what it’s about, and who we are. Through Soapbox Science, the public see that science is relevant and interesting, and that scientists come in all shapes and sizes.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
I would change the culture surrounding working hours. Academics are routinely spending 60 hours a week or more working, and that just isn’t healthy. Many PhD students spend twelve hours a day or more in the lab, which leaves them little time to look after themselves. Some students even sleep in their labs so that they can get more work done. The Internet and mobile devices are great, but they can make it very difficult to switch off at home – it’s always tempting to check the work emails.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
If you’re passionate about your subject, then go for it. Choose your group carefully – they make a massive difference. I’ve been really lucky in that my supervisors have been really encouraging and understanding as well as being excellent scientists. You need someone that you’ll work well with and be able to go to, as well as someone with a good research record.