All posts by Cristobel Soares-Smith


RHUL team win “Enterprising Ideas” competition 2018!

Over the past months seven SEPnet teams have been taking part in the Enterprising Ideas Competition designed to develop entrepreneurship skills.  PGRs and physics undergraduates were invited in January 2017 to put forward teams to compete to be the most entrepreneurial in SEPnet.

Three teams, Kent, RHUL and Southampton made it to the final on the 15 February 2018 at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor. The winning team was announced at a “Physics Means Business” networking event at the GRADnet Winter School.

Congratulations to the RHUL team who won £100 each!

L-R: Phil Edwards, Weald Technology, Simon Bland, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, Bob Pickles, Canon (UK) Ltd, Rupert Mellor, Alex Waterworth,  Albert Baker, Stephanie Bennett, Nathan Eng, Thomas Vaughan and Elaine Hickmott, Elaine Hickmott Enterprises.

Business and research increasingly need graduates who bring fresh ideas, innovative thinking and who have great team-working skills. Highly developed entrepreneurial skills and an enquiring mind are key to building a knowledge-based economy and can give you the edge when applying for research or graduate jobs or studentships.

This GRADnet training has given participants an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on how skills and knowledge can be applied; to understand more about entrepreneurship and what it means to have an entrepreneurial mind-set and develop real insights into business, innovation and team working.

Thank you to Elaine Hickmott, Development Director, EH Enterprises, Learning and development for scientists and engineers, who ran the 2-day entrepreneurship training for UGs and PGRs in June 2017 and the competition, and Cristobel Soares-Smith, Graduate Network Administrator, for coordinating and organising both events.

See here for Elaine Hickmott’s Blog.


Columbia Space Shuttle Mission is case study at GRADnet Winter School

This year’s Winter School, entitled “Building your leadership potential”, took place on the 14-16 February 2018 at Cumberland Lodge.  The former royal residence set in the heart of Windsor Great Park was host to 25 postgraduate students who enjoyed being immersed in its fascinating history dating back to the 17th century.

The 3-day residential school focussed on the skills required for effective leadership and team-working. Different leadership styles were explored and each student attendee was given the opportunity to have their preferred team-working style evaluated using the Belbin model.

The core activity involved Columbia’s fatal final mission. The multi-media case tracks the Columbia Space Shuttle mission from launch as NASA engineers and leaders sought to understand the nature and threat associated with an anomaly that occurred on launch. Participants were given an opportunity to analyse the case using materials supplied by NASA under the guidance of Dr Trevor Long, Consultant.

Thank you to Alys Brett Data and Coding Team Leader, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Jan-Theodoor Janssen, Head of Science for SI Metrology, National Physical Laboratory and John Wells, VP Engineering, Leonardo Air and Space Systems Division, who participated in the employer panel session.

Students also had an opportunity to hear from the finalists of the Enterprising Ideas Competition during a “Physics Means Business” networking evening. Congratulations to the winners, Royal Holloway University of London who had a team of both undergraduate and postgraduates. Thank you to Elaine Hickmott, Elaine Hickmott Enterprises for  leading the entrepreneurship training and running the 2017-18 competition.

A PGR from the University of Sussex said, “I really enjoyed the programme. It was varied and interesting. I liked the mix of presentation and workshop and having networking/discussion panels with employers was useful.”

Thank you to Trevor Long, Trevor Long Consultancy who ran the workshop, Veronica Benson, SEPnet Employer Liaison Director and Kay Pearson, Employer Engagement Advisor, for offering feedback and finally Cristobel Soares-Smith, Graduate Network Administrator for organising the event.


GRADnet Observational Astrophysics Workshop 5-7 March 2018

Who: Physics postgraduate researchers in observational astronomy. Would also be of interest to theoretical astronomers wanting an introduction to data analysis.

What: A 3-day residential workshop led by senior researchers in the SEPnet region comprising lectures, tutorials, seminars and other activities.

When: 5-7 March 2018

Where: Old Thorns Manor Hotel, Liphook, Hampshire.

Numbers: Circa 20-30 delegates

The aim of this workshop is to give a broad overview and hands-on experience of different techniques in observational astrophysics. The emphasis will be on practical skills training sessions with plenty of opportunity for student/staff interaction.

Exercises will be graded to match students experience and abilities.

Data mining – in other words doing astronomy using existing data in public repositories: examples from galactic and extragalactic astrophysics; an introduction to TopCat from its author (Mark Taylor); practical exercises.

Citizen science – how to get the general public to do your data analysis for you: examples and exercises.

Telescope proposals: the techniques and tools required to write an observing proposal; how the evaluation procedure works; practical exercises in both writing and reviewing. Much of what is learnt will be transferable to other types of proposal, e.g. applying for HPC time, grant funding, etc.

Using the OU robotic telescope: we will make remote observations on the OU PIRATE telescope on Tenerife (weather permitting).

Analysing observational data – an introduction to the main concepts: examples and practical exercises of source extraction, photometry, spectroscopy, SED fitting, etc.

Standalone lectures: introduction to X-ray/HE astronomy; Introduction to radio astronomy & interferometry; Current & planned telescopes/satellites/instruments.

Register here. Deadline to register is 2 February 2018.


Numerical Modelling in Condensed Matter Workshop a success!

The Numerical Modelling in Condensed Matter Workshop took place on 14-16 January 2018 at Old Thorns in Liphook and was attended by 20 delegates.

The students enjoyed the hands-on practical sessions on the simulation programme and the interaction with other SEPnet PGRs.

Malin Schulz, a first year PGR at the University of Surrey ” found the workshop an amazing opportunity to learn about molecular modelling. The lecturers did a great job to deliver the methods to us and helped us getting started on modelling. It was also a great opportunity to meet PhD students from other universities who work in a similar field.”

Thanks to Dr Dave Faux, University of Surrey and Professor Keith Refson who delivered the 3-day workshop and to Cristobel Soares-Smith who organised the event.


GRADnet Moving Forward for 2nd Years event is a success!

GRADnet held their first “Moving forward for second years” event on Wednesday 18 October in London which was attended by over 65 postgraduate researchers.

There were workshops on: Creating impact, How to write a successful fellowship application, Research data management, Unconscious bias and  Writing better software for better research.

Thank you to all our speakers, Julia Shalet, Product Doctor, Professor Peter McDonald, University of Surrey and GRADnet Director, Juan Bicarregui, Science & Technology Facilities Council, Dr Alice Motes, University of Surrey, Professor Averil MacDonald OBE, SEPnet Diversity and Impact Lead and Dr Mike Jackson, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre.

Feedback from delegates was very positive.  Comments received:

“Interactive, fun, insightful, inspiring – challenged the ideas we had, made us think about real world application”

“Fantastic as I think it dealt with some of the fundamental problems I have in communicating my research in a concise manner.”

“I learned that bias is far more ingrained in our minds than I previously imagined….Overall, it raised my awareness of the subject which I very much appreciate.”

“Best workshop I’ve ever done.”

SEPnet hopes to run a similar event in 2018.



GRADnet holds another successful Induction Day for 120 PGRs!

The GRADnet Induction Day was held on Wednesday, 25 October in London and attended by 120 first year postgraduate students from across SEPnet.

Workshops on LaTeX, MATLAB, Python, IOP Getting your research published and Organising meetings and conferences were run in parallel during the morning and afternoon.

Thank you to our speakers Dr Dave Faux, University of Surrey, Dr Tim Kinnear, University of Kent, Professor Peter McDonald, University of Surrey and GRADnet Director, Simon Harris and Tom Sharpe, Institute of Physics – Publishing and Mrs Kay, Pearson, University of Surrey.

Feedback from delegates was very positive.  Comments included:

“It was very good to get someone working in the industry to share their knowledge”

LaTeX: “Worked well doing the exercises in chunks with supplied coding….”

“Very nice and interactive session. I enjoyed group work and the time allocated for the exercises as appropriate.  Very useful tips about organising a meeting/conference.”

Delegates were introduced to the forthcoming GRADnet events taking place during this academic year.

SEPnet hopes to run the same event for first year postgraduates in October 2018.


GRADnet Training Programme for 2017-18 Announced

Outline of 2017-18 Training Programme

GRADnet is pleased to announce its programme of physics postgraduate researcher training for the next academic year. The programme for the year can be downloaded here: GRADnet Brochure 2017-18 Final

We have developed yet another comprehensive programme for 2017/18 comprising a mix of academic physics workshops and student-led conferences; residential schools with real life industrial content, leadership and professional skills training; targeted professional skills modules and more peer-learning opportunities.

This year, GRADnet is focussing on the following residential workshops in the following research themes of its partner physics departments. For 2017/18 we are offering:

For some of these events we will return to the Old Thorns Manor Hotel which offers impressive leisure facilities in the middle of our region.

For Second Year PGRs

The whole programme kicks off with “Moving Forward for Second Years” training on 18th October in central London. The training day includes the following workshops:

  • Creating impact
  • How to write a successful fellowship application
  • Research data management
  • Unconscious bias
  • Writing better software for research

For First Year PGRs

For the second year running there will be a GRADnet Induction Day on 25th October in central London. The Induction will include a choice of workshops for new PhD students:

  • Introduction to LaTeX
  • Python for beginners and more advanced users
  • Introduction to MATlab
  • Getting your research published
  • Organising meetings and conferences

Induction Day 2016

For all PGRs

The Winter School in 2018 at Cumberland Lodge (14-16 February) focuses entirely on the 2003 NASA Columbia disaster:  a popular case-study element of last year’s school. It takes students through exercises in leadership and team-working, skills rated highly by employers.

The 2018 Summer School at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex (2-5 July) explores suggestions to “What can I do with my PhD?”– this is a mix of employer-led workshops and consultancy challenges.

There will be a student-led conference covering Advances in High Energy Physics and Cosmology and From Micrometres to Megaparsecs. There will be cross-over lectures which are relevant to students of both particle physics and astronomy at the University of Southampton on 21-23 March 2018 and a one-day workshop on Science Communications Skills on 24th April 2018.

For more information on these courses and to register, logon to the GRADnet VRE.


GRADnet Introduction to Data Intensive Science Workshop 18-20 September 2017

GRADnet Introduction to Data Intensive Science Workshop 18-20 September 2017 – Registration now open.

Who: All DISCnet CDT students. Any GRADnet PhD student with an interest in data intensive science techniques.

What: A 3-day workshop that introduces the CDT and data intensive science and will comprise lectures, tutorials, and examples of the benefits of data intensive science techniques as applied to current research projects and induction into the DISCnet Centre for Doctoral Training: What is DISCnet? What kind of training is offered? What industry placements are available? This session gives an overview of the centre and provides information on how you can get involved.

  • Lunch and networking reception on 18th September: This is a great networking opportunity. DISCnet students, GRADnet students, supervisory teams, and the DISCnet coordinators will get to know each other in an informal setting.
  • Examples in data intensive science: How does data science give the edge in your PhD? Current PhD students from several SEPnet universities will demonstrate how data intensive science techniques have helped shape their PhD research. Topics will range from astronomical surveys, to numerical simulations and particle physics accelerator data.
  • Tools for data intensive science in particle physics and astronomy: This session will introduce you to important packages and tools that are in use in the various research fields. We will provide help installing software and guide you through the first steps.

When18th – 20th September 2017

Register here.  Registration deadline 16 August 2017

Where: Old Thorns Manor Hotel, Liphook, Hampshire

Requirements: A laptop computer is essential for this workshop.

Numbers: 30-35 delegates

The Data Intensive Science Centre in SEPnet (DISCnet) is a new STFC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training.

Eventbrite - GRADnet Introduction to Data Intensive Science Workshop 18-20 September 2017


GRADnet Summer School at NPL 3-6 July 2017


The fourth GRADnet Summer school took place on 3-6 July 2017 at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, Middlesex. The school comprised a broad menu of workshops and challenges led by different employers designed to offer students an insight into opportunities beyond their PhD.  A consultancy challenge took place on the last day and students worked in teams to create solutions using the skills they have learnt in their PhD.

AN EMPLOYER-LED PROGRAMME: Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Fourth State Medicine; IBM; Magnox; National Physical Laboratory; Oxford Instruments; RBA Acoustics; Things We Don’t Know; Surrey Satellite Technology Limited and WP Thompson.

SPEAKERS: Dr Paul Stevenson, Reader, University of Surrey; Jane Burston, Head of Climate and Environment, NPL and Dr Michael de Podesta, Principal Research Scientist, NPL.

Thank you to NPL staff in particular Richard Burguete and Gill Coggins from the Postgraduate Institute, Dr Julie Reeves, University of Southampton, Dr Laura Christie, Royal Holloway, University of London and Kay Pearson, SEPnet Employer Liaison Officer, University of Surrey and last but not least, Cristobel Soares-Smith, GRADnet Network Administrator for making this such a successful event!


  • “This was a fantastic opportunity to work on a real problem. Getting to talk to a real employer about their project of choice and thinking how to solve this problem was very valuable.”
  • The most valuable thing they would take away from this year’s summer school was “knowledge and the value of careers outside the PhD. The number of interesting fields is limitless”.
  • “This has been a very good summer school, pitched at the appropriate level and a good base to meet fellow students!”.


Centre for Integrated Photonics (Huawei)

Team 1:  William Evans, University of Sussex, Timothy Eales, University of Surrey, Tong Liu, Queen Mary University of London and Erika Cortese, University of Southampton with Michael Roberts, Research and Collaboration Manager, Centre for Integrated Photonics (Huawei).

Fourth State Medicine:

Team 2:  Miroslav Mlejnek, University of Sussex, Katie Ley, Laila Gurgi, University of Surrey and Giulio Violino, University of Hertfordshire with Tom Harle, Chief Technology Officer, Fourth State Medicine.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd:

Team 3:  Joseph Allen, University of Surrey, Sam Rowley, James Richings and Azaria Coupe, University of Southampton.

People’s Choice: Nicola Abraham, University of Sussex, Filippo Contenta, Tom Coates, University of Surrey and Kerri Loughney, St Mary’s Twickenham with Peter Shaw, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited.

Congratulations to all the winners!

The Students also had great fun building water rockets after the barbecue:

Photographs from the Summer School are available here:




In Introduction to Quantum Computing

The Quantum Technologies School took place on 24-26 April 2017 at Old Thorns, Liphook in Hampshire. Over 50 delegates attended the residential school led by senior researchers in the SEPnet region. PGRs were exposed to applications of physics which directly rely on the properties of quantum mechanics to perform a function beyond current technological capability. A total of six sessions spanned different directions in which quantum technology is progressing: Quantum computation, Quantum simulation, Quantum sensing / metrology and Quantum communications.

A PGR delegate gave positive feedback saying “the different areas of quantum technology were touched in the right balance.  This makes the conference quite interesting.  A great use and worth of my time.  A great impact into my life and a wonderful exposure for a newbie in the world of quantum technology”.

Thank you to all the speakers: Erika Andersson, Heriot-Watt University, Sougato Bose, University College London; Christopher Chunnilall, NPL; Andreas Freise, University of Birmingham, Eran Ginossar, University of Surrey, Jaewoo Joo, University of Surrey, Stefan Kuhr, University of Strathclyde, John Morton, University College London; Yuri Ovchinnikov, NPL​, Diego Porras, University of Sussex, Alessandro Rossi, University of Cambridge​, Tim Spiller, University of York, Seb Weidt, University of Sussex and Jonathan Williams, NPL.

Quantum crypto with chocolate activity!

Congratulations to the poster winners:

Joint first place: Corin Gawith and Oliver Trojack, University of Southampton.

Joint second place: Rhonda Au Yeung, University of Surrey and Teresa Hönigl-Decrinis, Royal Holloway, University of London.

(L-R) Dr Eran Ginossar, Teresa Hönigl-Decrinis, Oliver Trojack and Sam Berry receiving the prize on behalf of Corin Gawith.