Category Archives: Uncategorized

16Sep/20

Organising my first conference during a pandemic!

Tomás E. Müller Bravo, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton gives his perspective on organising and delivering a SEPnet student-led conference during a pandemic!

Every year SEPnet provides an opportunity to a group of postgraduate researchers to organise a two-day student-led conference at the University of Southampton. I first came to know about this when I applied for a talk at the Astronomy conference from 2019 ( From Infinity to Zero: the history of the Universe in redshift). These types of conferences are perfect for early career researchers as it is organised by students, for students, although a few academic speakers are also invited. You do not feel the same pressure as with the big international conferences where you find all the “big names” from your research field. In addition, you also get to know lots of people in the same career stages as you and share experiences.

After the 2019 conference I attended was over, I was very interested in organising one of my own. I talked to Elizabeth Swann, University of Portsmouth, the lead organiser to ask her for advice (this was really helpful!). I got very excited with the idea, so I decided to ask around in my Astronomy department for fellow PGRs who might be interested in organising a conference and started writing a proposal. At the same time a group of PGRs from the University of Hertfordshire were writing one of their own. They kindly suggested to work together instead of competing, so we started collaborating on a single proposal (after all, isn’t this what research is all about?).

Choosing the topic of the conference was relatively easy. As many big telescopes and surveys are coming in the near future, we thought it might be a good idea to focus on big data and machine learning, thus, the title of the conference: The Big Data Era in Astronomy. Finding academic speakers wasn’t too hard either. As several of us in the organising committee work on different fields, we quickly came up with a list of candidates. Cristobel Soares, Graduate Network Manager, was in charge of the logistics and  funding and very helpful with her advice and support.   We mainly had to focus on the structure, science and social events (eg, a conference dinner) at the meeting. Everything was going according to plan as the conference date was approaching, however, everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Many things were quite uncertain at that time. We didn’t know how long and how much this pandemic would affect everyone, so we had to postpone the conference. As time passed, we grew impatient. We didn’t know if we were going to have the opportunity to host the meeting or if we would have to cancel it. Eventually, we decided to do what many other conferences, schools and workshops were doing, choose a new date and go virtual!

This was full of challenges. We didn’t have to worry about funding, conference dinner and other logistics, but we did have to think about the proper platforms to host our virtual conference on. Thankfully, all SEPnet universities have access to Microsoft Teams, so we chose it as our platform for hosting the talks. In addition, Slack is widely used in academic environments as it is perfect for asynchronous discussions, questions, announcements, etc. We also decided to use Slido for the questions at the end of each talk, which was quite new to all of us.   I actually got to know about Slido during an ESO conference I attended in June.

Unfortunately, as things were still uncertain close to the new date of the conference in September, many of the students were unable to attend. Therefore, we had to shorten the length of the conference from two days to one and cut the number of sessions by half. However, the conference turned out better than expected.

From the feedback from the participants we learnt that the length of the conference (including the length of talks, breaks, etc.) worked well. Furthermore, the platforms used (Microsoft Teams, Slack, Slido) were really useful and the attendees found the conference was worth attending. Nonetheless, most of them, given the opportunity to choose, would prefer an in-person meeting instead of a virtual one.

Fingers-crossed for the 2021 Student-led Conferences!

28Aug/20

Inspirational EDI Online Workshops for Staff, ECRs and Students!

Professor Averil Macdonald OBE, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and former SEPnet Diversity Lead, has developed a set of 7 short (50 min max) inspirational online (Zoom) EDI workshops for students, ECRs, academics and professional staff respectively.

Trialled at Birmingham and Southampton with very positive feedback, these sessions are now available to other universities to roll out across departments and are a great way of developing stimulating discussion, sharing good practice and creating effective support communities between students, ECRs and staff across departments especially while working away from campus.

Sessions include:
• Micro-aggressions: a risk for everyone – UB workshop set in the academic context for all staff covering recruitment, teaching, research and staffing strategy.
• The Language Trap: how to recruit the best – this talk explains how language and vocabulary can make a difference – for all staff
• Taking the Chair – training offering tools to manage meetings well (and not to be overlooked)
• Top Tips for Success- it’s never too late! – workshop for anyone – academic & professional services staff- at any age.
• Making it Fair: navigating university and more in an unfair world – training for u/g & p/g students to see how to progress at uni and beyond
• Keeping it Fair: keeping your teaching fair for everyone – UB training for PhD students and ECRs covering teaching / supervision and job applications
• Top Tips – finding the job you were born to do – student workshop, especially effective for female students, covering how to take the next steps into a career.

For more information, please contact a.m.macdonald@bham.ac.uk

28Aug/20

Pros and cons of attending virtual GRADnet summer school

This year’s summer school at Herstmonceux Castle was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. GRADnet in collaboration with Skillfluence was swiftly able to offer the Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass in August.

A Southampton final year PhD student gives his perspective on attending both and the pros and cons.

Why I decided to attend the Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass: As I am coming to the end of my 3rd year as a theory PhD from the University of Southampton theory group I now have a little over a year left of my PhD. I am now looking at what to pursue post my PhD. I had little to no idea what I want to pursue as a career and I was interested in the Skillfluence online course as it covered a lot of different aspects of choosing a career and how to transition into work in industry successfully.

How was this year’s online masterclass?: The course was very enjoyable and gave a good introduction to a lot of different aspects to consider when finishing a PhD and starting a non-academic career. Some parts such as the importance of networking and how best to prepare a presentation of a task for an interview were things I had not considered in so much depth and the course covered them well. I also enjoyed the regular Q&A sessions with employers as it gave me the opportunity to ask the exact questions I wanted to ask and get more information as they were former SEPnet PhD students. This included the relevance of Graduate Schemes for PhD graduates and the role/importance of coding for different sectors. I would definitely recommend the online course for the future if GRADnet offer it in 2021 due to the current coronavirus restrictions.

Physical summer school versus virtual: I attended the 2018 SEPnet summer school at Herstmonceux Castle at the end of my first year as I felt at the time it was good to explore all these options early in my PhD when I had fewer commitments and more ‘free-time’ as it were. Given the Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass was so different as it was online as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, I felt it was worth attending as being closer to the end of my PhD, there were different questions I wanted ask employers this time around.

There are pros and cons to hosting the course online and ‘in-person’ (for want of a better term). Attending the course in person gave me a better opportunity to meet other young PhD students and network and also it was exciting to stay at Herstmonceux Castle with the Observatory Science Centre on the doorstep. As the in-person conference was over several days the amount of time working on the subject of careers was a lot more intense than the weekly 1.5 hour sessions of the online course. However, as the online course was spread over four weeks I found it gave me the opportunity to really focus during the 1.5 hour sessions and also read through the online material on the Skillfluence learning platform at my own pace and remain focused.

Given the online courses were ‘attended’ at my PC it also meant that I could complete assignments and joint tasks using my PC which I feel is probably more relevant to actual interview preparation and general careers-related tasks.

I feel both are definitely worth attending and I have encouraged my younger PhD colleagues to attend the SEPnet professional skills schools in their first year if they can.

27Aug/20

Interact 2019 Evaluation Report Launched

The Interact 2019 Sympossium took place in Preston last year, in a world which now feels barely recognisable! It formed part of a biennial series of symposia which aim to foster a community of active public engagement practitioners across academia and industry in the physical sciences. The day itself was a valuable experience to share expertise, network and foster ideas to enrich public engagement practice.

The symposium was co-organised by SEPnet, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Institute of Physics, the Ogden Trust, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the University of Central Lancashire (who acted as the 2019 hosts). The organisers are carrying out a longitudinal evaluation of the symposium series to access it’s impact on the sector, and to better ascertain what is needed from our organisations to support academics and industry professionals in their roles as public engagement practitioners. The report from Interact 2019 has now been published and is available to download from the STFC website. Hard copies are also available on request – please email outreach@sepnet.ac.uk if you would like to some.

We will shortly be sending out a follow up survey to attendees of Interact 2019, to follow up on the impact the symposium has had on their work. We recognise that this has been a rather unusual year and would like to also find out the affect this has had on the sector, and the support that our organisations can provide in the current climate. Pandemic permitting Interact 2021 is scheduled to take place in Cardiff next September.

26Aug/20

Turning a negative into a positive!

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this year’s GRADnet summer school in July at Herstmonceux Castle was cancelled. I was hugely disappointed as it had taken over six months of planning and organising the 4-day programme with employer-led workshops and talks.

I was determined to offer our final year PhD students an alternative with interactive online activities. By chance during lockdown I attended a webinar delivered by Skillfluence on “turning science into business”. I saw an opportunity to collaborate with Skillfluence and provide an innovative and novel online course over four weeks in August via Zoom: the GRADnet Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass!

From my employer network I invited former SEPnet PhD students with amazing careers and from diverse backgrounds to participate in this live online event and provide career path videos as a resource on the learning platform.  The course included interactive sessions:  Be a problem solver – learn how to ace interview challenges!; Understanding and communicating your value to industry; Your network is your net worth; an industry challenge on “the future of space travel” and a live careers panel.

One panellist said they were delighted to participate because the panel included “some fascinating guests” and they “really enjoyed listening to what they had to say” as they had “such cool jobs!”.

Over 60 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers registered for the masterclass which is great engagement during these challenging and uncertain times.

Thank you to the employers: 4-Delta Group; Airbus; BBC R&D; Deloitte; GEOptic; InCrowd Sports; Kindred Group; NPL; QinetiQ; Reaction Engines and Santander and last but not least Zach Sorrells and his team at Skillfluence.

Cristobel Soares
SEPnet Graduate Network Manager

31Jul/20

From physics degree to graduate work – SEPnet & WRIPA’s recent webinar discusses the challenges for graduate employability in the current climate

Over 80 academics, careers professionals and industry representatives joined SEPnet and WRIPA’s webinar on embedding employability to discuss the mobility of physics graduates’ and how to develop their career-ready mindset – particularly in the current challenging climate.

Presenters included Brooke Storer-Church of Office for Students, Charlie Ball of Prospects; academics Al Buckley at University of Sheffield, Mike Edwards at Keele University, Sinead D’Silva from Universidade de Lisboa and Samantha Pugh at Leeds. Professor Sir William Wakeham chaired the event. The presenters were joined by a panel of employers – Rikki Douglas, Ultra Energy; Adrian King, AWE; Riham Satti, MeVitae and Bill Stafford, BAE Systems.

Some of the key points arising from the discussion included:
• Hard to fill graduate roles persist in programming, software development and engineering and this is not expected to change post-COVID-19.
• Employers report graduate vacancies are hard to fill due to candidates lacking technical/practical skills including complex problem-solving skills; complex numerical or statistical skills and role-specific specialist skills. High-level communication skills was also highlighted as an area where STEM/physics graduates need to improve.
• Approximately 85% of physics students study within 100km of home and about 65% end up working within 20km of home
• ‘Physics Stayers’ do really well in terms of graduate-level work. (A ‘Stayer’ travels to a different region from their domiciled address to study and remains in the same region to work).
• “Science ego” (a combination of science capital (influences at home), feeling of belonging and knowledge that studying physics makes you highly employable) can work against students who feel they do not have to work on their employability skills.

You can view the presentations here: D’Silva and Pugh-WRIPA_SEPnet 23 July SEPnet WRIPA Storer-Church MEdwards Presentation Slides  WRIPA presentation_AB  SEPnet 230720_Charlie Ball

A fuller report will be made available to attendees at a later date.  For more information contact employerengagement@sepnet.ac.uk

20Jul/20

SEPnet launches new model for SME collaborative PhD studentships!

Following the success of SEPnet’s PhD SME Consortium in Radiation Detectors (RADnet), SEPnet has successfully won a £370k funding bid from the Research England Development (RED) fund to roll out collaborative PhDs with SMEs. The collaborative project will be led by University of Surrey.

Funding a PhD with a university can be an effective way of conducting research but the cost of research for knowledge-based SMEs can be prohibitive. By building collaborative networks we are able to create a critical mass of research to support both regional activity and national science priorities.

The aim is to recruit a total of 12 PhDs over 3.5 years. As well as radiation detectors, we will explore developing projects related to condensed matter, numerical modelling, simulation and gaming, data science, quantum technologies, medical imaging, photonic materials and sensors – all areas where SEPnet universities have expertise.

This scheme will enable companies to share the costs of PhD studentships with university partners and government funding. Companies will work with academics to shape the projects to ensure that work carried out is in line with each company’s business strategy. SMEs will have regular contact with the academics and the student throughout the 3.5 year programme to ensure the research remains relevant to their needs.

The project is scheduled to start this summer. A part-time project manager will be recruited to coordinate the programme. The first PhD students will be recruited in 2021.

For more information contact Veronica.Benson@sepnet.ac.uk

15Jul/20

Graduate Skills Gap in Physics 2020

The physics graduate “skills gap” – what it is and how to address it

Sean Ryan & Veronica Benson, South East Physics Network, spring 2020
pdf (424 kB): (SkillsGap2020)

Physics graduates are highly employable, and a lower fraction take up non-graduate roles than the national average, but there is a perception that they do not possess the range of technical and ‘employability’ skills that industry requires. In this report, we examine the gap in physics graduates’ range of industry-valued skills, and what universities and industry can do to address it.

Summary and recommendations

With technological change and the demand for new graduate skills accelerating, the physics skills gap will be a continually evolving feature of the physics graduate workplace.
Universities and business need to work together, in ways that have been shown to be effective, to reduce the impact of the skills gap on physicists’ futures and on industry.
There is an onus on academics and the IOP to ensure that physics departments increasingly embed both specialist and transferable skills that graduates and employers have identified, that they increase students’ awareness of these skills and their career options, and that sector requirements are updated continually.
There is an onus on employers and industry to provide the structured placement opportunities wherein students can develop the industry-relevant skills that employers expect graduates to possess.
Coupled with the need for a greater number of placement opportunities to satisfy the high number of physics students pursuing industry-relevant work experience, there is a need for more geographically-diverse and sector-diverse placements, for example provided by SMEs. SMEs are an important contributor to the UK’s economic powerhouse, but historically they have been less likely to offer paid placements. The SEPnet 8-week summer placement scheme involves much smaller financial outlays and time commitments than the traditional full-year placement model, so is well suited to industrial newcomers as well as to students who do not wish to prolong their degrees. Physics students cannot graduate with the full suite of industry-ready skills without the full suite of UK industry providing industry-relevant workplace experiences.
There is also a role for supervisors, research tutors, heads of department, research councils and other funders of research to encourage PhD students to identify and take up placement opportunities to develop industry-relevant knowledge and skills during their studies.

25Jun/20

SEPnet Career Development Webinar for Physics and Maths Students – Marketing Yourself using the Power of LinkedIn

Thursday 16 July, 12.00 – 13.00

Now is a great time to focus on identifying your employability skills. This session will help you understand the skills you’ve gained on your course and in extra-curricular activities and how to show evidence of these in your social media profile.

This is an interactive webinar for physics and maths undergraduate and postgraduate students and will cover:
• How to create a winning profile
• How to develop your personal brand
• How to actively engage with LinkedIn

It would be helpful to set up a LinkedIn profile beforehand so you can work on it during the session.

Hosted by Jenika Karsan, a physics postgraduate, analytics and marketing consultant. Jenika has a strong background in the in financial sector and has worked for a number of years with SEPnet, recruiting students for placements and presenting at SEPnet employability events.

Places are limited. If you would like to join this Zoom webinar, please email employerengagement@sepnet.ac.uk for further details and instructions for how to join the meeting.

18Jun/20

Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass – Register Now!

Who: SEPnet Physics-related PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.  Free to attend.

Where: 4 live online sessions (1.5 hours per session) via Zoom

When: 11:00 on Tuesdays, 4th, 11th, 18th and 25 August 2020 (Attendance required at all 4 sessions)

Numbers: 45

GRADnet is pleased to announce a live online workshop series to explore opportunities beyond your PhD to widen your future career options.

There will be four sessions looking at what’s important to PhD graduates and postdocs now:

  • Opportunities for physical sciences in industry: Find out what’s important to industry, what industry relevant skills physics-related PhD graduates possess and how to articulate your research, skills and experience to add value to a future employer and to give you the edge/impact.
  • Be a problem solver – learn how to ace interview challenges: Learn how to demonstrate your problem-solving capability to potential employers. Practise delivering tangible solutions under time pressures and learn specifically what employers are looking for when hiring PhDs.
  • Understanding and communicating your value to industry: Understand and convey what you can offer business and industry. Develop a pitch to a company you would like to work for, articulating your research, skills and experience and how you can add value to that employer.
  • Connecting with industry: Actively explore different possibilities and better understand the steps/actions you need to take to achieve your next-step career goals.

Preparatory Work: Each module will include maximum of 1 hour (video, audio, reading, writing, thinking, etc.)

Live Session Online: 4 live online masterclasses (1.5 hours each) delivered in coordination with Skillfluence, SEPnet team and industry
partners.

Application: Apply key concepts from the preparatory work and live sessions. This may be individual activity and/or small group work following the masterclass. Maximum of 1 hour per participant.

Register here: (places limited to 45 participants)

Registration deadline: 13 July 2020

Industry partners: 4-Delta Group, Airbus, BBC, Deloitte, Formula-E, GEOptic, Kindred Group, National Physical Laboratory, Reaction Engines and WP Thompson.