Why get involved in organising a GRADnet Student-led Conference?

13-14 April 2021: Novel Ideas in HEP: From Theory to Detector

In July 2020 my team and I were given the opportunity by SEPnet to organise a student-led conference and design the programme. We were excited to do this as it was a unique opportunity to make a student conference our own.  Armed with advice from the organisers of last year’s online student-led conference and the support of GRADnet we were able to handle the practicalities of organising an online conference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With regular meetings with Cristobel Soares, the Graduate Network Manager, who handled the logistics of the conference, we were able to focus on the scientific aspect as well as deciding how best to hold the conference online.

As lead organiser for our conference I worked closely with Julien Camard the lead organiser of the parallel conference: ‘Optics and photonics for scientific progress’.   We had regular catch ups with our teams to discuss how best to produce joint sessions such as an opportunity for attendees to learn about post-PhD career options both in and out of academia as well as a joint poster session. In this latter session we used the software ‘GatherTown’ to hold an online meet and greet where we could discuss attendees’ posters and the conference at large – a unique setting for a unique time. 

Organising the conference was a team effort and couldn’t have happened, let alone be as enjoyable as it was, without the other members of the organising team; Ciara Byers (University of Southampton), Arran Freegard (Queen Mary University of London), Billy Ford (University of Southampton), Ross Glew (University of Southampton) and Charlie Woodward (University of Southampton). Together we overcame the challenges of organising an online conference and how to make it interactive and informative.

Thank you to all the invited speakers, including Professor Daniel Litim (University of Sussex), Professor Carlos Nunez (Swansea University), Dr Vera Guelpers (University of Edinburgh), Dr Stefan Prestal (Lund University), Professor Veronica Sanz (University of Sussex), Dr Ian Tomalin (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and Dr Sadie Jones (University of Southampton) as well as our student speakers, poster presenters and attendees for making the conference a success.  Thank you to Professor Stefano Moretti (University of Southampton) for his invaluable support. 

I would recommend organising a student-led conference because it is an opportunity to practise transferrable skills in a scientific context such as working in a large collaboration, public speaking and chairing, organising/recruiting people and many others.  My team and I have shared experiences we wouldn’t have expected when we first started our PhDs, experiences which I anticipate will be invaluable going forward in our careers and set us apart from the crowd.  

The conference went very well and as you can see from the feedback below the participants enjoyed it too!

“The talks were a good length and there was a good structure to the conference”

 “There was a very broad range of talks but each was introduced very well and pedagogically by the invited speakers”

 “I most enjoyed some talks which were not so related to my research, which is a good indication that they were aimed at the perfect level of complexity”

Article by Alex Mitchell-Lister, University of Southampton


SEPnet Public Engagement Awards 2021

SEPnet’s 2021 Public Engagement Awards ceremony took place online on March 25th, having been delayed from September 2020 due to the pandemic. The awards recognised Physicists across our partner universities for their outstanding public engagement work. The awards served as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of physicists engaging with the public, a chance to reflect on the last year and the challenges and opportunities it has posed, and space to look forward to consider how we might engage post-pandemic. The awards were presented in 9 categories and different awards were open to individuals, projects, research groups and departments. A huge congratulations to all winners and those highly commended in categories.

Winner – Will Roper, University of Sussex

Winner – Meirin Evans, University of Sussex
Highly Commended:
Muhammad Hamza Waseem, University of Oxford

Winner – Dr Victoria Mason, University of Kent

Public Engagement Champion Award
Winner – Dr Seth Zenz, Queen Mary University of London
Highly Commended:
Dr Stephen Wilkins, University of Sussex

Innovation Project Award
Winner – SETI and Democracy, University of Oxford
Highly Commended:
Space Soundscape, Queen Mary University of London

Impact Project Award
Winners – The Tactile Universe, University of Portsmouth
Space Sound Effects, Queen Mary University of London

COVID-19 Response Award
Winner – Physics Outreach Team, University of Oxford
Highly Commended:
ATLAS Research Group, University of Sussex

Strategic Approach to Public Engagement
Winner – School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent
Highly Commended:
Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth






SEPnet launches new network for underrepresented PhD students!

IPPSnet: Intersectional PhD Peer Support network

What is the network? 

The purpose of the network is to connect and support underrepresented PhD students across the SEPnet institutions. This includes (but is not necessarily limited to) students who identify as Black and minority ethnic, disabled, LGBTQIA+, of a minority religion and/or women.

We aim to create a friendly and supportive intersectional community and to run events and initiatives to provide peer support and mentoring!

See our new webpage here and to join our mailing list, or to ask any questions you have about the network, please email us at ippsnet@sepnet.ac.uk


Virtual Observational Astronomy Workshop

Over 60 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers attended the GRADnet online observational astronomy workshop on 10 March 2021.

Thank you to Kathy Romer, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sussex and her wonderful team who provided pre-recorded content as part of the live workshop as well as the following sessions:

  • Observational Astronomy in the future: Plenary seminar with Q&A with Dr Steve Wilkins, Reader in Astronomy in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Sussex.
  • Virtual Observatories and introduction: Seminar given by Dr Peter Hurley, Research Fellow in Extra-Galactic Astrophysics (Physics and Astronomy), University of Sussex and Dr Raphael Shirley, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Survey Scientist; postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southampton.

Participants enjoyed “learning about future telescopes and meeting people in Gather Town”. “It’s the first time I’ve been to an event where this networking feature has worked virtually.  This was really well planned.”

The “telescope quiz was fun, the talks were great and the sharing of expertise”.  Delegates welcomed the flexibility of the virtual workshop: “Having the option of watching pre-recorded talks was nice. It made it easy to pick and choose the parts which were relevant to me.”

Post-Covid-19 GRADnet looks forward to being able to run a similar face-to-face event sometime in the future!


Online GRADnet Winter School a success!

GRADnet in collaboration with Mark Horner, Performance Pathways, successfully ran a three-day online course 15-17 February 2021 via Microsoft Teams for 30 delegates focusing on transferrable skills development.  The workshop looked at the complexities of team working, effective communication and how to best perform in a team, remote team working, with the opportunity to develop leadership qualities and skills.

Participants explored the benefits of, and opportunities for, improved self and social awareness; gaining an understanding of one’s strengths and areas for support; looking at how one’s working style impacts on co-workers; developing the experience, skills and qualities needed for future leadership.

Working in teams, remotely, using some A4 sheets of paper, paper clips and sticky tape, delegates had to construct a paper structure and balance a plastic bottle on top.

Chris Brunskill, Head of UK Space Programme, D-Orbit kindly provided the challenge “Design of a commercial space service” where delegates had to pitch and present their business plan in under 15 minutes! 

Congratulations to Team A who won the challenge:  Adel Aljarid, University of Sussex, Josefine Gårn, University of Hertfordshire, Kai Sun, University of Southampton, Terje Theisen, Royal Holloway University of London and Hannah Wood, University of Sussex.  They chose to start a satellite company for the remote censoring of crop fields to help farmers and insurance companies with crop fields.

This years’ Winter School was due to take place at Cumberland Lodge, Great Park Windsor, but was switched to online delivery due to the current Covid-19 lockdown.  The tech worked and thankfully everything ran very smoothly.

Feedback from participants:

  • “Good organisation of the workshop, communicating schedules and resources etc. and using the technology to make this work remotely”.
  • “The workshop facilitators were great and very effective. They did a great job motivating me to do my best.”
  • Thank you for a great event! I really enjoyed myself and both Mark and Chris were great.”

Cosmological Clues for Beginners!

Congratulations to Dr Carolyn Devereux FRAS, University of Hertfordshire, on the publication of her new book: “Cosmological Clues:  Evidence for the Big Bang, Dark Matter and Dark Energy”.

Carolyn is a lecturer in astrophysics at the Centre for Astrophysics Research, specialising in galaxy evolution and observational cosmology using Cosmic Microwave Background lensing. After gaining her PhD from University College University (1990), she researched  electro-optical devices using ferroelectric liquid crystals and liquid crystal polymers at the Hirst Research Centre, GEC. After managing large IT projects in industry, followed by a career break, she changed fields to become an astrophysicist focusing on the measurement of dark matter halo mass and the role of dark matter in the evolution of the Large Scale Structure of the Universe.  

This book gives an overview of cosmology showing how the different theories and observations fit together to make the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (LCDM) model. The book is for beginner students (it is written without any equations) and focusses on understanding the concepts that make up the LCDM model of cosmology. It is written in a readable way with stories about how the LCDM model developed and the scientists involved in it’s  development. It covers the early universe, including difficult topics such as structure formation and inflation, and it looks at current research, exploring some of the key questions that we have in cosmology. This is a book that will help students understand cosmology.

To obtain access to the book see here.

Abstract:  Did the Universe have a beginning? Will it have an end? Or has it always been the same, never changing? This is the subject of cosmology; the study of the Universe, and this book provides a perfect introduction to the subject for anyone that is interested in the wonders of our Universe

This book provides an accessible overview of the Standard Model of Cosmology, which is explained in six Cosmological Clues, including evidence for the Big Bang and dark matter and dark energy – the keystones of modern cosmology. 

It takes readers through some of the most exciting questions in cosmology, such as what evidence do we have that the Universe started from the Big Bang? Has dark matter been observed? Will we ever know what dark energy is? Are the multiverses real? And could the Universe be a hologram? 

This book is an ideal guide for anyone interested in finding out more about our Universe. It will be of interest to those studying cosmology for the first time, including readers without a scientific background, who have an interest in looking up at the stars and wondering where they all came from!

Key features: 

  • Contains the latest evidence for the Big Bang, dark matter, and dark energy and explores exciting scientific ideas, such as inflation and multiverses
  • Provides a clear explanation of the main theories of how the Universe evolved based on key observations – the Cosmological Clues
  • Gives the reader a concise introduction to the scientific process, using cosmology as the example, and explores why it has been so successful in creating the technologies we have today



Machine Learning and AI Workshop via Zoom!

Over 50 delegates signed up to the GRADnet Online Machine Learning and AI Workshop on Wednesday, 20 January 2021 via Zoom. Topics covered were Linear Regression; Neural Networks and Convolutional Neural Networks supported. 

mybinder.org set up by the Turing Institute along with other notable organisations was a useful   tool for this workshop and helped students to run scripts or run jupyter notebooks through their browser linked to the tags of the git repository.

This workshop is always very popular in the GRADnet training calendar and the feedback was once again very positive, particularly for an online event:

  • “Doing these things on zoom is excellent! It makes it so much easier to attend. It would be great to keep this option after the pandemic ends.”
  • “Great to have the breakout room discussions with hands on practise with the code. The helpers were also very helpful, and interesting to talk to about the wider topic of ML”
  • “The explanation of the Jupyter notebooks was really great.”

Thank you to Professor Adrian Bevan, Queen Mary University of London for delivering this workshop and postgraduate researchers, Joe Davies and Tong Qui, also from QMUL, who provided excellent hands-on support during the workshop. 

GRADnet looks forward to working with Adrian and his team next year!


SEPnet Summer Placements 2021 – Do you have a project/work experience for a physics or maths undergraduate or PhD student?

SEPnet organises over 70 summer placements a year for all 2nd and 3rd year physics, and now maths, students 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 or maths 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 the SEPnet team
• Some funding available for SMEs
• Read our short placement case studies here: Placement Case studies – SEPnet.

Register your placement project, or projects, online here: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/SEPnet_Employer_Registration_2021/ by Friday 12 February. Early projects will be prioritised.


A fantastic group of panellists and ambassadors joined our recent joint IOP SEPnet Career Panel for Women in Physics

Over 100 students signed up to hear inspiring stories from a diverse range of women who described their varied career journeys and the challenges and triumphs along the way.

These wonderful role models from NPL, Met Office, Nordson, University of Surrey, Micron, Semiconductor, Equiniti, NHS, Venner Shipley, University of Sussex and Reaction Engines shared their tips and advice for how to pursue your career ambitions despite the setbacks and highlighted the importance of supporting each other and building strong networks to sustain you along the way.

Join our SEPnet Careers Forum for Women in Physics to connect with inspiring women in business and research: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12096544/