13Mar/19

Enfield Council International Women’s Day Conference

Friday 8th March was International Women’s Day, a day where we celebrate the achievements of women and highlight the barriers which still exist to achieving gender equality. Our Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Dr Olivia Keenan, was invited to speak at the International Women’s Day Conference organised by Enfield council on the subject of Women in Physics. Olivia used the opportunity to highlight the problems we have in physics around gender equality and to highlight some programmes and schemes working to counter this.

Only around 20% of A-level physics students are currently female, in spite of the fact that all genders perform equally well at GCSE level (IOP ‘Why not Physics?’ report, 2018). Similarly, around 20% of Physics undergraduates and postdoctoral students are female. However, in academia it gets worse as women progress to more senior positions, with only 11% of Physics professors in the UK being women (IOP ‘Academic Staff in UK Physics Departments’, 2017). These figures get even worse when we look at the ethnicity of physics academic staff. Overall, for all genders, 94.2% of UK national academic staff in physics are white, 2.4% are Asian, 1.5% are Chinese and 0.1% are black (IOP ‘Academic Staff in UK Higher Education Institutions, 2012). All women face significant barriers in physics academia, with non-white women being currently barely represented at all.

The picture is similar when we look at industry. WISE’s 2018 Workforce Statistics show that currently only 22% of the core STEM workforce are women. For engineering, a career route particularly relevant for those with physics degrees, this proportion falls to 12%.

The good news is that multiple organisations are working on programmes to help turn the tide, and increase the gender diversity in physics. In 2013 the IOP published the report Closing Doors which explores gender and subject choices at school across six subjects. It found that nearly half of schools were making the gender imbalance worse, however in schools that were sending more girls to do A-level physics the gender imbalance was also smaller in other subjects. This was followed by the Opening Doors report in 2015. It highlighted the issues schools deal with when it comes to gender balance and makes recommendations on how schools can address gender balance. These recommendations include appointing gender champions on senior leadership teams, ensuring that sexist language is unacceptable and presenting all subjects equally to students in terms of relative difficulty.

University College London is leading the ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 project, which is a longitudinal study of young people’s science and career aspirations from ages 10-19. They have coined the term science capital, which is a measure of how likely someone is to see science as for them. Science capital can be influenced by multiple factors including whether there is a scientist in the family, if science is discussed in the home and whether someone has visited science spaces outside of formal education. They also find that girls pursuing the physical sciences post-16 are ‘exceptional’ in many ways, including having high science capital and tailoring their performances of femininity when in a science environment.

SEPnet piloted the Shattering Stereotypes project in the academic year 2016/17 with the aim of determining the best role physics Outreach Officers can play in tackling and improving the gender stereotyping problem in schools. Workshops were held with year 8 students around understanding and countering the stereotypical perceptions of gender, with year 12s involved in leadership roles. This was evaluated and is now running in schools during the 2018/19 academic year. Shattering stereotypes incorporates the People Like Me quiz developed by WISE which highlights scientific careers routes to girls based on the traits and skills which they identify with.

The strong message from all of the research and projects happening around gender and physics show that there are many issues compounding to mean fewer girls go on to take physics. Science capital is a key theme, with the need to work towards increasing science capital being paramount. Another common negative factor is the use of gender stereotyping and gendered language in our society. We need to work on ways to counter these problems to help lower the barriers to more girls and women identifying with, and participating in, the physical sciences.

25Feb/19

Why sign up for a GRADnet Winter School? A PGR’s perspective.

Cumberland lodge is every bit as striking as its reputation implies. Just 15 minutes from Woking station, and situated in Windsor Park, it is both convenient and secluded. I felt very fortunate to be staying there for the GRADnet winter school 18-20 February 2019. It’s a comfortable and well catered venue, with good menus for all dietary requirements.

The winter school aims to cover leadership skills and discusses the current understanding of best practice and common problems. This year it was led by Dr. Trevor Long, who has an outstanding background in the field, as well as a perfectly tuned approach to a practical learning experience.

This is illustrated by a study of the NASA Columbia disaster of 2003. Accounts of the disaster are separated into the perspectives of four figures who were closely involved and the group is split into teams. Each team reports on the contribution of one of the four teams. The Columbia study was very engaging and effective, certainly the highlight of the workshop for many people there.

Many of the concepts and observations on leadership presented were very interesting and thoughtful. It signposted issues important to teamwork in both academia and industry.  An additional feature of the workshop brought together five industry team leaders to aid our understanding of how to put our new leadership skills into practice.  Some of the content did come across as a little enigmatic and it was certainly presented from the perspective of industry.

The trip to Windsor also deserves a mention. It was an excellent demonstration of the sensitivity of physicists to location based variance in the value of beer. The town is charming, of special interest to international students, and the castle is also pretty.

This workshop has a lot to recommend it.

Thank you to SEPnet PGRs from QMUL and Southampton for their contribution in writing this article.

Employer panel with ingenie, Ultra Electronics, Blue/Red Optima, Stifel and the UK Space Agency.

 

Students participating in the “Marshmallow Challenge”!

21Feb/19

Columbia Space Shuttle Mission in Windsor!

The GRADnet Winter School took place on 18-20 February 2019 at Cumberland Lodge, Great Park, Windsor. Dr Trevor Long, consultant, led the workshop for over 30 delegates.

This workshop was an integrated learning event where delegates developed insights into the importance and nature of leadership and effective team working.  These are skills they will require in any career in academia, government or the private sector.

Formed around a multi-media case simulation of the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle mission NASA engineers and leaders seek to understand the nature and threat associated with a technical problem that occurred on launch. Over the course of the mission, they analyse the damage, assess the risks, and decide what to do.  Leadership, organisational culture, communication, personality characteristics, formal systems and job positions are amongst many complex issues that affected the course of the decision-making process.

A panel of employers shared their experiences and the challenges they have faced when leading a team in a senior role on the second day:  Selim Cavanagh, ingenie; Rikki Douglas, Ultra Electronics ; Jason Rolles, Blue Optima; Sheela Sharma, Stifel (Europe) and Alex Shepherd, UK Space Agency

Thank you to the employers for their participation and to Trevor for making this workshop a success.

SEPnet PGRs who attended the workshop said:

  • This simulation provided “an important skillset for postgraduate students”;
  • The event was packed, enjoyable and provided a thought-provoking simulation and talks (especially on the importance of communication). There was also an informative careers panel;
  • The best aspects for me are that it has motivated a lot of thoughts and has challenged me to think about myself. The employer panel was extremely productive.  A lot of good insight was shared.

Marshmallow Challenge winning team:

Kent: Emerald Taylor, Alex Paul, Luke Cornwell and Akiko Sato (Kent).  QMUL:  Jesse Coburn.

L-R:  Emerald, Alex, Jesse, Luke and Akiko

Well done for constructing a 22″ tower! Amazing feat of engineering with spaghetti and tape!

 

 

13Feb/19

Director of Outreach and Public Engagement speaking at the IOP

Olivia Keenan, our Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, is giving a talk on her PhD work at the Institute of Physics on the 20th of March. The talk is free and open to all. Refreshments will be served from 6pm, with the talk starting at 6:30.

Location: Institute of Physics, 37 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9BU


Image Credit & Copyright: Malcolm Park (North York Astronomical Association)

Where are all the Galaxies? The Missing Satellite Problem

State of the art computer simulations of our Universe currently over predict the number of dwarf galaxies by a factor of 10. As astronomers, we need to understand why this discrepancy has come about, and whether it is due to problems with simulations, observations, or both. One potential solution is that these galaxies could be hidden, ‘dark galaxies’. Dark galaxies are galaxies which are gas dominated, with few to no stars. There have been many dark galaxy candidates, however, so far none of these has been confirmed. Another solution is that the galaxies are star dominated but extremely faint and hard to detect in crowded, large field surveys. If so these galaxies could be detected using a combination of their physical properties to separate them from background field galaxies. In this talk I will discuss work on this topic, and how this has contributed to understanding the missing satellite problem.

01Feb/19

SEPnet Summer Placements 2019 – 2 weeks to submit a project for a physics student!

SEPnet organises an annual placement scheme for physics students at the above universities and is seeking 8-week plus projects in industry or research in areas such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, product design and testing or science communication.

The scheme is aimed at any organisations interested in recruiting physics graduates, or who can offer valuable business experience, including large companies, SMEs, start-ups, research institutions, charities and NGOs.

Benefits to employers
• Early access to bright, numerate students with excellent problem-solving and IT skills
• Enables you to carry out projects you would not normally have time for
• Provides a fresh perspective on your business challenges
• All advertising, administration and placement support is handled by SEPnet
• Some funding available for SMEs
• Read our short case studies here

What employers have said:
‘Very satisfied with the whole process, organised and straightforward, with good students.’
‘We took SEPnet students for the second year running and have been very impressed with the calibre, their capabilities and the general high standard. For your records we have just made a permanent job offer to one of the students…’.

For more information email summerplacements@sepnet.ac.uk and to register your placement project, or projects, online by Friday 15 February, click here

 

24Jan/19

Stellar event at University of Hertfordshire!

The Interface between observation and theory workshop took place 17-18 January 2019 and was kindly hosted by the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.

Over 40 delegates attended the workshop and they enjoyed the good range of talks from exoplanets to cosmology:

  • “Great range of speakers, almost everyone got something relevant and useful”
  • “The talks were given clearly with space for questions. Good to meet fellow researchers and have space for discussion.”
  • One of the best aspects of the programme was the machine learning talk as it’s a new thing potentially useful for everybody.”

Thank you to all our speakers for participating in this event and making it a success:

Ben Burningham, University of Hertfordshire: Characterising exoplanets from theory and data driven perspectives.

Noelia Noel, University of Surrey: Resolved stellar populations and star clusters in Local Group galaxies: Unravelling galaxy formation and evolution.

Jim Dale, University of Hertfordshire: Modelling star formation in the Milky Way.

Jim Geach, University of Hertfordshire: Machine-learning techniques in Astrophysics.

Sebastian Hoenig, University of Southampton: Stars, dust, and outflows: Modelling the infrared emission from AGN.

Claudia Maraston, University of Portsmouth: Stellar population synthesis models.

Chiaki Kobayashi, University of Hertfordshire: Interpreting the Universe both near and far with cosmological simulations.

Thank you to the lead academics for organising this workshop – (Sugata Kaviraj, Jan Forbrichand, Sean Ryan (all University of Hertfordshire) Kathy Head (Research Administrator, University of Hertfordshire) and Cristobel Soares-Smith (GRADnet Manager, SEPnet).

 

 

 

03Jan/19

SEPnet Summer Placements 2019! Do you have a project/work experience for a physics undergraduate or PhD student?

SEPnet organises an annual placement scheme for physics students at the above universities and is seeking 8-week plus projects in industry or research in areas such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, product design and testing or science communication.

Who can apply?
The scheme is aimed at any organisations interested in recruiting physics graduates, or who can offer valuable business experience, including large companies, SMEs, start-ups, research institutions, charities and NGOs.

Benefits to employers
• Early access to bright, numerate students with excellent problem-solving and IT skills
• Enables you to carry out projects you would not normally have time for
• Provides a fresh perspective on your business challenges
• All advertising, administration and placement support is handled by SEPnet
• Some funding available for SMEs
• Read our short case studies here

What employers have said:
‘Very satisfied with the whole process, organised and straightforward, with good students.’
‘We took SEPnet students for the second year running and have been very impressed with the calibre, their capabilities and the general high standard. For your records we have just made a permanent job offer to one of the students…’.

For more information and to register your placement project, or projects, online by Friday 15 February, click here.

20Dec/18

Daphne Jackson Fellow ignites passion for astrophysics amongst children in care

Daphne Jackson Fellow Dr Carolyn Devereux, based at the University of Hertfordshire, has led a programme of events to engage children in care in astrophysics research.

Carolyn, a foster carer herself, organised bespoke observatory open days for children in care and their foster carers, and young people who are carers.

One event attracted 120 attendees new to astronomy, from toddlers and teenagers to adults, with activities such as planetarium shows, lab experiments and telescope demonstrations.

The programme is designed to accommodate the possibility of challenging behaviour, address traditionally low attendance rates among this audience and respond to specific learning needs, such as autism.

Carolyn who is based within the School of Physics, Astronomy and Maths, Centre for Astrophysics Research, at the University of Hertfordshire, worked with the council-run Hertfordshire Virtual School, which brings together children who are looked after.

At a Hertfordshire Virtual School residential event for Year 10 children in care, Carolyn organised a ‘Mission to Mars’ session to help motivate the children for their science GCSE. A school educational adviser said the children’s’ “thirst for science was definitely quenched”.

The University of Hertfordshire runs a wide-ranging astrophysics and astronomy public engagement and outreach programme, for which Bayfordbury Observatory, the University’s own teaching facility, acts as the hub.

Carolyn worked for the General Electric Company (GEC) in industrial research before her 12-year career break. She is returning to astrophysics research with a Daphne Jackson Fellowship, sponsored by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

11Dec/18

Advanced Materials Workshop: 8-9 April 2019 at RHUL

Register now!

Who: 1st and 2nd Year Physics postgraduate researchers working on theoretical and experimental advanced materials wanting to learn what each other can do.

What:  A  2-day residential workshop that describes the background science of advanced materials and experimental and theoretical techniques to study them.

When: 8-9 April 2019

Where:  Royal Holloway, University of London (Accommodation at Travelodge twin occupancy)

Numbers: Circa 25-30 delegates

This residential school provides an overview of research on advanced materials. It comprises lectures, tutorials, hands-on computing practice and, working in small groups, students will write a proposal for central facilities resource. Assuming only a knowledge of undergraduate level physics, it should be beneficial to students working on both theoretical and/or experimental projects.

Strong correlations: The session will cover the theoretical concepts necessary to understand strongly correlated systems.

Numerical modelling: This session will introduce Monte Carlo, molecular dynamics, and first-principles quantum mechanical simulation.

Optical spectroscopies: This session will cover the basics of optical spectroscopy, spectrometers and spectrographs using photoluminescence, Raman spectroscopy and absorption spectroscopy.

X-ray and neutron scattering: This session will cover neutron and synchrotron sources, instrumentation, basic scattering theory, structure determination, magnetic structures and excitations, lattice dynamics and diffusion.

Register here.  Registration deadline 1 March 2019.

This event is free (SEPnet pays for your accommodation and course fees) for SEPnet postgraduate researchers and travel expenses incurred can be claimed from your Physics Department.