Category Archives: GRADnet


GRADnet Planetary Science School 14-15 November 2016

Planetary Science School 14-15 November 2016

GRADnet is pleased to announce a two day workshop for postgraduate researchers engaged in the diverse areas of Planetary Science at the SEPnet members.

Who:  Physics postgraduate researchers in planetary science.

When:  14-15 November 2016

Where:  National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 0LW Accommodation is pre-booked and paid by SEPnet at the Travelodge in Teddington.  Travel expenses to and from the venue can be claimed through SEPnet.

Register here.  Registration deadline 14 October 2016. You will need to be logged onto the GRADnet VRE to register.

What:  A 2-day residential workshop led by senior researchers in the SEPnet region comprising lectures, tutorials, seminars and other activities. The workshop comprises four sessions exploring difference aspects of planetary science through a mix of lectures, seminars and tutorials. There will be a poster opportunity for students to present their own plans and research.

Measuring geology on distant worlds

Led by researchers from the Open University, this session explores how rocks and minerals that form distant worlds are formed, destroyed, and rebuilt during geologic processes.  The contrasting examples of Mercury and Mars will be described.

Planetary magnetospheres

Led by researchers from the University of Southampton, this session explores how solar system bodies interact with the solar wind, the extension of the Sun’s outer atmosphere that flows outward through the solar system.

Asteroids and Comets

Led by researchers from the University of Kent, this session focuses on the exploration of asteroids and comets that recently achieved fame through Rosetta’s Philae probe first-ever landing on a comet; 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Deep space communication and navigation

Getting probes to distant worlds and getting quality data back is a key aspect of any mission in planetary science.  Led by researchers at NPL this session discusses the technical and intellectual challenges involved.


Connecting Industry and Researchers in Physics – A SEPnet Event – Wednesday 19 October 2016 – 17.00-20.00, University of Hertfordshire

Connecting Industry and Researchers in Physics,

Wednesday, 19 October 2016, University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire Sports Village, Hatfield.

SEPnet’s Graduate Network (GRADnet) is organising its 6th networking evening to facilitate greater collaboration and links between industry and physics postgraduate research students (PGRs) and researchers.

Who should attend

  • SEPnet PGR students who want to meet businesses and employers from physics-related industries to find out about career opportunities, make contacts and explore research and business ideas.
  • SEPnet partner researchers who want to build links with industry to explore how their research can create impact.
  • Businesses and employers in physics-related industries interested in recruiting physics graduates.

During the evening

  • Hear from panellists about the benefits of knowledge exchange and what physics postgraduates and postdocs can offer industry
  • Participate in a speed networking session
  • Build ongoing relationships between industry and researchers through placements, mentoring or research collaboration
  • Find out about work experience and mentoring opportunities;
  • Develop your networking and communication skills.
  • Refreshments will be provided.

How to register    This event is FREE to attend.  Places are limited so please book early by clicking on the following link:  (PGR students are requested to attend a networking workshop at 16.00). Registration deadline: 14/10/2016

Banners    If you would like to bring a banner for display let us know and we will reserve you a space.

For enquiries, contact





GRADnews Issue 5 – Summer 2016 Issue available

The Summer 2016 issue of GRADnews has been sent off for printing. It will be distributed to all PGRs and staff across the SEPnet members over the next two weeks. Watch out for it in your mailslots or in your PGR student common rooms/areas. If there’s one in your mailslot, then it’s for you!

This issue concentrates on the GRADnet Training programme as we reach the third year of its delivery. It summarises some of the recent programme, such as the Online Learning modules produced by PGRs keen to pass on their knowledge to newer students; the recent Summer School held at Hertmonceux; the Entrepreneurship Challenge; the SEPnet Scholar scheme; and, looking forward, the Student led conferences planned for 2017; the training programme and the forthcoming Big Data workshop.

As always, please ensure you have a functioning VRE account so you can fully participate in the programme. If you need help, please look here: 

You can download a copy of the newsletter here: 63890 GRADnews Issue 5 PROOF1


GRADnet VRE – Make sure your account is working

With the start of the new academic year upon us and the GRADnet training programme being launched for the coming year, we must ensure that all PGR students in SEPnet have ensured they have functioning logins for the GRADnet Virtual Research Environment.Your login (also called an OUCU) is of the form AB12345 where AB is normally your two initials.

It is vital that all students are able to login to the VRE and regularly check it for information and enrolment on GRADnet offerings. We have implemented a system for enrolling on GRADnet offerings via the VRE and for most offerings enrolment will only be possible via the VRE.

This same system on the VRE allows you to find and search for courses, workshops, residential schools etc that you may be interested in attending or required to attend. It is important that you are able to access it and to ensure you are able to use it. These can be found under the Training tab when logged onto the VRE and the GRADnet Event Catalogue and Registrations entry on that page.

The VRE is accessible via . It can also be found via the SEPnet website ( under the “SEPnet Graduate Network” menu: SEPnet Graduate Network -> GRADnet’s Virtual Research Environment.

A set of FAQs concerning the VRE and how to register or reset accounts are available here.


  • New Students (or unregistered current students): you will need to register and can do so on At busy times this process may take up to 5 days, if you have not received account details within 5 days please contact your local GRADnet administration contact.
    • Herts: Kathy Head
    • Kent: Helen West
    • The OU: Georgina Ayre
    • Portsmouth: Emma Bain
    • QMUL: Karen Wilkinson
    • RHUL: Carmella Froggatt
    • Southampton: Ceris French
    • Surrey: Joanna Moore
    • Sussex: Rebecca Foster
  • If you have an existing account but have forgotten the password you can reset your password by calling the OU’s Student Computing and Distribution Helpdesk on 01908 653972 and ask for your “visitor SAMS password” to be reset. You will need to know your username (OUCU) and may be asked to confirm your date of birth. If you are unable to call the helpdesk then you can email but please note that it can take longer to reset your password by email. DO NOT use the “password reset” link on the OU sign on screen. 
  • If you have forgotten your username (OUCU) then please contact the GRADnet administrator at your university. Before doing so please check historical emails and other sources that may include your OUCU.
  • Expired access: in some instances it is possible that access has expired (depending on when the account was created and last accessed). If you are using your username and password and unable to log in or not seeing what you expect then you should email  to investigate. This process will always take longer to investigate than a password reset so if there is any chance that you are using the wrong password then you should take the password reset option first.
  • Non-SEPnet accounts: some students have created accounts from the main OU website. If this is the case then you won’t have a username made up of your initials followed by some numbers. Depending on the information that you provide it can take a while to get to investigate these so it would be important to include this in any communication so that you can be instructed to register using the SEPnet VRE registration.

Having validated that your account works and that you can sign in, please ensure that you keep your account information with you so that it does not become necessary to reset the passwords because of infrequent use. Web-browsers often enable the automatic storage of passwords and account details and help make logging in much easier but you may find this gets lost in some circumstances.

As we anticipate that the new cohort of students joining this term will be registering for the VRE over the next few weeks we would urge you to act now.


GRADnet 2016/17 Training Programme announced

Outline of 2016-17 Training Programme

GRADnet is pleased to announce its programme of Physics PGR training for the coming academic year. We have developed our biggest programme yet for 2016/17 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 more strongly on residential workshops in the big research themes of its partner Physics Departments. For 2016/17 we are offering:

For some of these events we will return to the Old Thorns Country Club which offers impressive facilities in the middle of our region. Others will be held at NPL.


Teamwork: the marshmallow challenge at the 2016 GRADnet Winter School

Teamwork: the marshmallow challenge at the 2016 GRADnet Winter School

For First Year PGRs

The whole programme kicks off with an Induction Day on 26th October in central London. New this year, Induction  will include a choice of workshops for new PhD students:

  • Introduction to LaTeX
  • Introduction to Python
  • Introduction to MATlab
  • Getting your research published and
  • Organising meetings and conferences.

For all PGRS

The Winter School in 2017 (Feb  13-15) 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 2017 Summer School (July 3-6) follows the established pattern of  “What can I do with my PhD?”– a mix of employer workshops and consultancy challenges. In 2017 it will be hosted once more by NPL.

There will be a Student led conference covering Astronomy and Scanning Probe Microscopy Techniques at the University of Southampton on March 30-31 2017; a Professional Skills Day on May 18th; a module on Public Engagement on February 21st; and Effective Researcher, kicking it off, on Nov 1st and  29th 2016.

The programme for the year can be downloaded here: GRADnet Brochure 2016-17 Final

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


GRADnet Entrepreneurship Challenge – Winners announced

Our dynamic modern world presents interesting and exciting opportunities for those who want to get involved and add value to the economy and society. Entrepreneurship is a key and Research Councils encourage PhD students to have a better understanding of its role in value creation and the role of innovation in fostering it. Earlier this year, GRADnet launched its Entrepreneurship in Action Challenge tailored for Physics PGRs in SEPnet to get involved. Elaine Hickmott of EH-Enterprises developed the programme especially for GRADnet.

As  part of the Challenge, SEPnet institutions were invited to form teams of PGR researchers to compete to be the most entrepreneurial physics department in SEPnet. Teams were formed from Kent, Portsmouth, QMUL, Southampton, Surrey, and  Sussex.

In the six months since the teams formed they have undertaken an exciting, and sometimes gruelling, journey to develop their ideas into marketable proposals. Unfortunately along the way, some teams dropped out due to research commitments. However they gained valuable experience from the intensive training provided.

The teams from across the network gathered on 13 July to present their business ideas to a panel industry judges.  Neil Phillipson of Outsideology, Simon Bland of Reigate and Banstead Borough Council and Phil Edwards of Weald Technology were all impressed by the quality, credibility and potential of the ideas being showcased.  They commented that it was impressive to see physics PhD students applying their skills to challenges and scenarios outside of their normal environment.  They agreed that the creative thinking and entrepreneurial mindset demonstrated by the teams would be an asset to any industry or organisation.

The teams were from Portsmouth (Daniel Goddard and Ben Mawdsley, who sent a video of their project), Southampton (Azaria Coupe, Anthony Preston, Andrew Lawson, and Marc Scott), and two teams from Surrey (Ralitsa Ilieva and Gemma Chapman; Bob Simmons and Louise Dummot).


Winning Team from Southampton. Azaria Coupe was unable to be present.

Winning Team from Southampton. Azaria Coupe was unable to be present.

The winning team came from the University of Southampton and they are looking forward to spending their cash prize.  The achievements of all the teams were celebrated at the follow-on networking event which brought together the students and local entrepreneurial businesses.Azaria Coupe, who led the winning team, has written an article on her blog.

All the teams thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, having learnt a lot about innovation, business and themselves.


2016 Summer School

SEPnet Physics PGRs invade Herstmonceux Castle

“Where might my Physics Take me?” – GRADnet 2016 Summer School – Herstmonceux


The Observatory Science Centre, formerly the Royal Greenwich Observatory

During the week of 4th July 2016, nearly 50 SEPnet Physics PGRs from around the region attended the GRADnet 2106 Summer School. This was the fifth of our series of residential schools in the GRADnet programme and it was held in the historic setting of Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex.  The castle is of 15th Century origin and is located by the former Royal Greenwich Observatory, now a public Science Centre.

The purpose of the GRADnet residential schools is to give Physics Postgraduate Researchers in the SEPnet region the opportunity to experience opportunities and challenges outside of academia. They give them the chance to interact with employers from leading organisations through interactive workshops, presentations and poster sessions. They explore how the skills developed by Physics PGRs can be applied to solve problems encountered in the commercial world.

The programme consisted of the “Consultancy Challenge”, a competition where students take on the role of consultants to propose solutions to problems encountered by companies. Amec Foster Wheeler, Chomko & Rosier, Observatory Science Centre, and InSync Technology presented the students with a set of problems they need help solving, and the students formed teams to propose solutions. The posters with their solutions from the teams are here.


Dr Becky Parker

There were modules on Public Engagement, led by Rowena Fletcher-Wood of Things We Don’t Know, followed  by a “Pub Quiz” to push the problem solving skills to the limit and think about how to communicate science in new ways. The next day Dr Becky Parker, Director of the Institute for Research in Schools, gave a stimulating talk on how Physics researchers could work with schools to engage them in their research, to inspire school students to become involved in cutting edge research.


Workshops from Airbus, NPL, CAST, AkzoNobel, the Met Office, and MR Solutions gave insights into challenges faced in the commercial world and how Physics skills can be applied to address them.

Dr Julian Potter of JW Thompson

Dr Julian Potter of JW Thompson

Key topics covered by other speakers included Intellectual Property by Julian Potter of JW Thompson, and Ethics in Research by Paul Stephenson of the University of Surrey, explored via case studies of ethical issues researchers are likely to encounter.

All in all, a packed programme that our students thoroughly enjoyed and valued.

Prizes for Posters and the Consultancy Challenge

Research Posters:

  • 1st:  Sarah Bentley, University of Reading
  • 2nd:  Lotfi Achiri, University of Surrey
  • Joint 3rd:  Andrew Lawson, University of Southampton and Tomas Navickas, University of Sussex
Sarah Bentley, Winner

Sarah Bentley, Winner

Lotfi Achiri, Runner Up

Lotfi Achiri, Runner Up

Andrew Lawson and Tomas Navickas, joint 3rd

Andrew Lawson and Tomas Navickas, joint 3rd

Consultancy Challenges:

Amec Foster Wheeler:

Team Green 1

  • Gemma Chapman, University of Surrey
  • Michael Everson, University of Kent
  • Heather McAslan, University of Sussex
  • Shaun Read, University of Hertfordshire
Chomko & Rosier:

Team Blue 2:

  • Chris Hayes, University of Hertfordshire
  • Tom Vaughan, Royal Holloway University of London
  • Oliver Winston, University of Sussex
  • Tingting Zhang, Queen Mary University of London
InSync Technology:

Team Red 1:

  • Andrea Fortini, University of Surrey
  • Anthony Preston, University of Southampton
  • Gabriel Secheli, University of Surrey
Observatory Science Centre:

Team Yellow 1:

  • Jesus Rubio-Jimenez, University of Sussex
  • Sarah Bentley, University of Reading
  • Ryan Perera, University of Surrey
People’s Choice:

Team Red 3:

  • Tugba Buyukbese, University of Sussex
  • Ryan Cheale, University of Hertfordshire
  • James Kneller, Queen Mary University of London
  • Tom Peach, University of Surrey 



Photographs of the week are available below:



Southampton Quantum Light and Matter Summer School

For GRADnet Postgraduate Research Students

Southampton Quantum Light and matter PGR students are holding a Summer School in Winchester on August 30 – September 1st. In the interests of encouraging greater collaboration within SEPnet we have agreed to fund upto 10 PGRs from other SEPnet partners to participate, including their reasonable travel cost. If the numbers are oversubscribed we will work with the organisers to ensure a reasonable distribution across the SEPnet members and sub-disciplines, otherwise places will be filled  first come first served. The deadline for registration has been extended to Friday August 5th 2016.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Professor Mark Fox, The University of Sheffield
  • Professor Marika Taylor, University of Southampton
  • Professor Ifan Hughes,  Durham University
  • Professor Shinichi Saito, University of Southampton

Visit to register


Connecting Industry and Researchers at Surrey

Connecting Industry and Researchers  – what a PhD graduate learned from our recent GRADnet networking event at Surrey.

On the 9th of June 2016, GRADnet held the fifth in a series of “Meet the Employers” events in which Physics and Astronomy Postgraduates and Researchers meet with regional and national employers.

The recent Surrey event was a great occasion to hear about a wide array of opportunities in physics-related industries – from medical diagnostics to satellite systems – and to get invaluable advice from employers.  There are many R&D roles in industry where a company needs problems solved eg product design, creating innovative methods of quality testing etc. Companies need people who can develop analysis techniques to make sense of data and physics postgraduates can offer these skills.

Employers don’t necessarily expect you to have the expertise required for a specific job role. They need people able to research new techniques, to be curious and flexible and to learn fast – familiar territory for postgraduate researchers who have to cope with fast-paced, unpredictable situations during their PhD. Employers want good problem-solvers.  They want to know what challenges you have overcome during your PhD and what you have gained – both technical knowledge and skills.  Perseverance and resilience are highly valued.

Student and employer exchanging contact information at Industry event.

Student and employer exchanging contact information.

In applied physics, the word ‘engineer’ is often used in a job description but physicists should not be discouraged from applying – it is likely you already have the skills required!  It is really important to find out what are you passionate about because enthusiasm and passion will shine through any role you choose.  Talking to experts from the field can help you to identify ‘what makes you tick’.

The event was a great success and we’re now planning the next one at the University of Hertfordshire on October 19th.


SEPnet Initiatives in Computing: Workshop on Big Data and Numerical Modelling and Simulation

SEPnet is pleased to announce a major workshop on Big Data and Numerical Modelling and Simulation


What SEPnet workshops for academic researchers from SEPnet institutions
When 21st and 22nd September 2016
Where Cosener’s House, Abingdon, OX14 3JD
Who Academic researchers from SEPnet institutions with interest in:

·       Big data in all areas of physics;

·       Numerical modelling and simulation in condensed matter.

Cost Accommodation and travel costs will be met by SEPnet.
Registration e-mail to by 31st July 2016.

The aim of these parallel workshops is to explore opportunities for collaboration and the winning of research funding in computational science across SEPnet. The two workshops will take the form of joint plenary talks and break-out sessions with particular focus on:

  • Big Data in all areas of physics;
  • Numerical Modelling and Simulation for condensed matter science

Big Data: The forthcoming Alan Turing Institute (ATI) will be a focus for data intensive science in the southeast of England. Within SEPnet, several scientists have been working on university-wide initiatives in Big Data with some local resources committed for these endeavours. This workshop will bring together interested scientists from across SEPnet with a view to sharing ideas and exploring synergies and opportunities, especially in the astronomy and particle physics communities. It will cover academic research in the area of data intensive science, including developing links with the ATI and possible future funding routes through research councils and / or partnerships with business.

Numerical modelling: Strong pockets of expertise in numerical modelling and simulation for condensed matter science across a broad spectrum of length and timescales are embedded right across the SEPnet partners. However, to date little attempt has been made to draw these together. The workshop seeks to showcase activity; to explore some of the big challenges of modelling and simulation and to discuss opportunities for new routes to collaborative research funding especially with business.

Training opportunities: Both Big Data and Numerical modelling and simulation in condensed matter offer great possibilities for new training and innovation opportunities. At the workshop we will investigate how GRADnet could provide a vehicle for common doctoral training across the network, possibly leading to further funding from the research councils and collaborative funding directly with SME companies.

Speakers:  John Bancroft, Director, NPL North of England:  Marieke Beckmann, Research Lead, NPL, Centre for Carbon Measurement:  Ofer Lahav, Perren Chair of Astronomy, Astrophysics Group, University College London and Michele Weiland, Project Manager, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, University of Edinburgh have agreed to speak at the meetings. There will also be opportunities for participants to make presentations.

Registration: Registration is open. To confirm a place, please send an e-mail to Cristobel Soares-Smith ( by 31st July 2016. In the event of over-subscription, preference will be given to delegates that (i) register early while (ii) maintaining representation from a diversity of interest groups and institutions.