All posts by Cristobel Soares


GRADnet Astrobiology and Planetary Science Workshop: Mars Rover fun!

The Astrobiology and Planetary Science workshop took place on 20-21 April 2022 at the Open University in Milton Keynes for SEPnet postgraduate researchers.

Thank you to Dr Matt Balme who led the workshop and his colleagues at the OU and Mars Yard:  Geoff Austin, Alex Barrett, Richard Busutil, Simone Cogliati, Elena Favaro, Paul Streeter and Susanne Schwenzer.

Thank you to Frances Westall, Director of Research at the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire Equipe Exobiologie,  who gave a lecture on “Mars Astrobiology” and Professor Sanjeev Gupta, Imperial College London, for his talk on “Perseverance Rover mission”.

An evening dinner was held for delegates and academics to network after a long absence of face-to-face events due to the pandemic.

Delegates found the workshop “interesting, good fun, challenging and very rewarding”.  “The best part of it was being actively involved in the actions of the Mars rover in the Mars yard and working with people as part of a team. The lectures were very good as well.”

GRADnet is looking forward to hosting more residential workshops in the future! Look out for an announcement in September for details of our training programme for 2022-2023!


GRADnet Winter School 2022: Moving from Science into Business

The GRADnet Winter School took place 14-15 February 2022 and was attended by SEPnet postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.

Thank you to Julia Shalet at Product Doctor and author of “The really good idea test” who delivered the online training this year. Julia describes how the training went:

“Our theme was “Moving from Science into Business”. We spent two online days generating some real business ideas and working through the commercial opportunities. By the end of the workshop, four teams talked us through their entire business model in under 4 minutes each – amazing! 

We promised the participants that they would get to turn an idea into a meaningful value proposition that focuses on solving people’s problems; find out how to reduce the biggest risks before building anything; map up a new business model and throughout practice good time and people management, written and oral presentation skills, identify and solve problems by gathering evidence of risks and find out the importance of being flexible.

Our participants gave our course brilliant scores – here is what they told us:

  • Very informative, engaging, and worthwhile with a friendly presenter who was open to questions and explained concepts clearly. 
  • It started with simple ideas and built us up to delivering a presentation lasting just a few minutes which brought together everything we had done over the two days. 
  • The significant thing about this course is that it allows the participant to recreate the required steps for any idea 
  • I loved the active group work in each section, which helped to solidify ideas when they were presented to us. 
  • I don’t know whether starting my own business is necessarily for me, however I don’t regret attending, as it was very informative and helpful!
  • Really very useful – I have a product ready to sell but did not have any idea how to start and make a good business plan.

So that’s a wrap, another Winter School is done. In the nature of true innovation, we tested and learned from some new formats and we’ve already identified another twist for next year, when we look forward to meeting in person.”

The GRADnet Summer School takes place 4-5 July 2022 at the National Physical Laboratory.  If you are a SEPnet postgraduate or postdoctoral researcher or are part of  NPL’s Postgraduate Institute and would like to register for this event click here.


Machine Learning & AI Online Workshop 12 January 2022

Thank you to Professor Adrian Bevan, Head of Department of Physics and Astronomy, Queen Mary University of London who delivered the GRADnet Machine Learning & AI online workshop on 12 January 2022 to over 40 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.

Adrian’s view of how the day went: “It is important to develop and maintain relevant skills throughout our working lives, from the moment we start studying through to the day we retire. Really great to see a new generation of Physics PhD students as a part of the GRADnet programme follow the 2022 GRADnet Machine Learning workshop today. We had over 50 participants registered for the event, which covered real world use of ML, an introduction to machine learning using TensorFlow, and an overview of how to use data science to predict air-pollution – a global problem that is gaining prominence in terms of links to health.

Our first speaker was an ex-Physicist and Queen Mary University of London alumnus Dr Tom Charman. He now works at Accelex on the use of AI in industry, focusing on NLP application to financial documentation. It was fascinating to see the same kinds of thought processes and workflow ideas that help particle physicists analyse abstract forms of data to find the Higgs boson, and search for new particles at the LHC applied to NLP problems in the real world. This really highlights that the skills sets developed as a physicist are really widely transferable. Learning about the priorities of UK companies in terms of the additional skill sets beyond that taught in the curriculum, is also a great help – as we all need to embrace professional development in our careers, from the outset until the day we retire.

Drs Marcella Bona and Jia-Chen Hue from Queen Mary University of London talked about the SAPIENS (Smart Air Pollution Information Enabling New Solutions) project looking at data sets collected in Mexico City and how from that one can predict air pollution. This was another data science project that used methods (and code!) from an LHC analysis – this time used for rare B decay studies on ATLAS. The ability for physicists to work in a multidisciplinary team of data scientists to study this critical and ubiquitous problem facing populations of large cities across the planet is amazing. Again it highlights the importance of learning how to solve a problem in whatever you want to specialise in and then look for interesting ways to make a difference by applying your knowledge elsewhere. Sharing that expertise across the disciplines helps make great ideas turn into real outcomes.

The tutorial part of the day was run by me with the help of a great graduate student, Joe Davies. We started off looking at a simple linear regression problem using keras. For those of you who studied linear regression at school, yes this is really overkill. However it is a great starting example to pedagogically explore how optimisation works for machine learning and to turn the dry math associated with the books and papers to see in action with a single input, single output problem that can be solved analytically, what happens when you get let loose with the ADAM optimiser. This helps provide a solid grounding to discuss machine learning optimisation problems in general, and is a good way to separate out how optimisation works in practice from the more complicated issues surrounding neural networks in the form of multilayer perceptrons, deep learning and moving on to convolutional neural networks. The workshop stopped there, as we ran out of time at the end of the day having covered a great deal of material. The real stars were the participants. We had some great questions and discussions throughout the day.

This was a SEPnet organised event run at Queen Mary University of London in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Sadly for the second year in a row this was an online-only event, but we are hopeful that next year we will be able to resume in-person meetings and move back to a multi-day workshop on campus, taking on board feedback from the participants to make the workshop even better.

  • If you want to get involved in GRADnet ML 2023 reach out to me via my linked in page to ask how to get involved.
  • The code used in the GRADnet ML tutorial can be found on my git hub page.
  • You can find more of my machine learning teaching material on my teaching home page.”

GRADnet Induction Day welcomes new SEPnet PGRs

GRADnet welcomed over 100 new PGRs to their online induction day on Wednesday, 20 October 2021.  Dr Olivia Keenan, Acting SEPnet Executive Director and Outreach Director and Cristobel Soares, Graduate Network Manager, led the event with an introduction to what SEPnet is and what GRADnet has to offer postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.

Thank you to Lukas Gunthermann, University of Sussex and Matthew Grayling, University of Southampton who gave presentations on their SEPnet PGR placement experience and the advantages of taking up such an opportunity during their PhD.

Attendees were invited to participate in the following workshops:

  • Intro to Basic Python and Intro to Scientific Python delivered by Dr Tim Kinnear, University of Kent
  • Science Communication Skills led by Dr Claudia Antolini, SEPnet/Ogden Senior Officer for Outreach and Public Engagement, Department of Physics, Royal Holloway, University of London and Hannah Tonry, SEPnet/Ogden Engagement Officer, Division of Natural Sciences, University of Kent
  • Understanding Software for Research delivered by Claire Hepwood, Royal Holloway, University of London

Thank you to our workshop leads for running these informative sessions online and dealing with challenges this entails.  Feedback from one of the attendees:  “It was a really good talk. Astonishing how much Tim could fit into one hour of introduction.”

GRADnet hopes to welcome the next cohort in October 2022 with a face to face event at One Park Crescent in London!


SME-DTN Online Sandpit Event on Defence and Security

SEPnet’s SME-DTN funded by Research England Development Fund held their second online sandpit on Wednesday, 15 September 2021. Led by Professor Stephen Sweeney, Academic Lead, University of Surrey and Cristobel Soares, Project Manager for the SME-DTN, the aim of this event was to explore industry relevant collaborative PhD research projects in defence and security.

Thank you to our industry partners Airbus, AWE, DSTL, the National Physical Laboratory, Quantum Dice and Thales who attended the sandpit event.  Representatives from each company presented their research problems to SEPnet academics to identify synergies and  viable future PhD research projects.

Research England Development Fund is supporting this scheme and providing funding for 12 PhD projects from 2020-2024.  If you are a small, medium or large company and would like to collaborate with a SEPnet institution in developing an industry relevant PhD research project in physics, engineering or computer science  please visit: for further information or email


GRADnet Launches Training Programme for 2021-22

GRADnet is pleased to announce the list of forthcoming GRADnet Training events for the academic year 2021-22.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this list is subject to change.

These events are only for SEPnet postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.  These events are free to attend (SEPnet pays for your accommodation and course fees for residential courses) and travel expenses can be claimed from your department.

List of training events:

20 October 2021:  Online Live GRADnet Induction Day for 1st Year Physics PhD students (via Microsoft Teams). This is compulsory for all September/October 2021 starters. Register here by 18 October 2021.

27 October 2021:  IOP/SEPnet Webinar: “Taking control of your career as a woman in physics”.  The Institute of Physics and SEPnet are holding an online careers webinar for women and non-binary physics students (i.e. undergraduate, postgraduate and postgraduate research), as well as recent physics graduates working in a range of employment sectors. Our half-day panel and networking event will give you a chance to find out the variety of career options available to physicists. You will hear from a diverse range of women in physics-related careers who will talk about their roles and how they got to where they are. They will provide practical advice and information about the skills and experience you need to progress in your career. This event is open to IOP members and non-members.  Register here by 26 October.

10 November 2021:  Developing knowledge and skills in Public Engagement Webinar Session 1*. This is a two-part Public Engagement series designed to give you an overview of the engagement landscape, and practical guidance as to how to create engagement around your own research.

Session 1:  will explore what public engagement is, delving into the research and literature around it, unpicking why we do engagement, and looking at how to create impact from engagement.  This will be led by SEPnet Outreach and Public Engagement officers with many years’ experience in this field.

Session 2 (see 23 March registration link below):  will be in the format of a workshop and will allow attendees space to discuss their own research and form ideas for engagement. SEPnet Outreach and Public Engagement officers will lead and facilitate this session, using their experience and working with attendees to create impactful engagement plans. There will also be guidance on how to evaluate and evidence engagement, which is particularly important in the context of REF.

We strongly encourage interested postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers to attend both sessions.  For other staff members interested in finding out more about the engagement landscape please do register to attend the first session.  Register here by 8 November.

24 November 2021: IOP Publishing Webinar “How to get published”:  IOP Publishing is one of the world’s foremost publishers within the physical sciences, with over 80 titles covering all aspects of physics. For early career scientists starting out in research, the world of academic publishing can be somewhat confusing. In this webinar we aim to shed some light on this process and enable you to navigate it to maximise the impact and visibility your research. This talk will cover topics such as open access, choosing the correct journal for your work, the peer-review process, and promoting your research. More information can be found on the IOP Publishing Support site at  Register here by 23 November.

12 January 2022: Machine Learning & AI at Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London.  Registration link tbc

14-15 February 2022:  GRADnet Winter School at Cumberland Lodge, Great Park, Windsor.  Register here by 14 January 2022.

23 March 2022 Developing knowledge and skills in Public Engagement Workshop Session 2*.  For details of session 1 & 2 see 10 November 2021 aboveRegister here by 21 March.

28 March 2022:  Advanced Materials at Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey.  Registration link tbc

Astrobiology/Planetary Science at the Open University, Milton Keynes, Bucks, TBC

10 & 17 May 2022:  A Guide to Virtual Networking online workshop.  Register here by 6 May 2022.

4-5 July 2022:  GRADnet Summer School at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex.  Registration link tbc

June/July 2022:  XII NExT School TBC

5-7 September 2022:  Student-led Conferences at the University of Southampton.  Registration link tbc

Please note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic the delivery of some events may switch to online via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

For regular updates visit:  GRADnet Training Events for 2021-22 – SEPnet


GRADnet Online Summer School 2021 a success!

GRADnet in collaboration with NPL’s Postgraduate Institute and Skillfluence hosted a live online summer school for over 45 delegates on 5-7 July 2021 looking at opportunities beyond one’s PhD and networking skills.

The 3-hour sessions looked at a range of potential career options/paths in physical sciences; explored a number of important scientific trends/issues in physical sciences (industry-centric) and participants developed networking skills and actively expanded one’s network.

A huge thank you to our industry partners for taking the time out to share their career transitions; explaining their roles in industry and how to create your own opportunities as well as providing top tips for networking.

  • “This was an excellent event for networking.” PGR, University of Kent
  • “If you are unsure about job opportunities post PhD this is the training for you!” PGR, University of Herts
  • “It has been an extremely useful experience and really opened my eyes in terms of the different available options at the end of my PhD.” PGR, University of  Sussex
  • It was a really great opportunity to make connections and learn about lots of options for post-PhD careers.” PGR, University of Surrey

Finally, thank you to Zach Sorrells and Dr Hannah Roberts for facilitating the sessions and making them fun and interactive.

National Physical Laboratory “Trends in Science”:

Monday, 5 July:  “NPL Foresighting”  Dr JT Janssen, Chief Scientist, National Physical Laboratory,

Tuesday, 6 July:  “Machine Learning “:  Dr Spencer Thomas – Senior Research Scientist, (Data Science) and Ashish Sundar – Research Scientist (Data Science)

Wednesday, 7 July:  “My adventures in interdisciplinary research with “real world” scientists!”:  Geraint Thomas:  Professor of Biochemistry, UCL

Career Panellists:

Monday, 5 July:  

Dr Rebecca Douglas, Patent Attorney, Hindles Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys

Dr Sonali Mohapatra, (Ex Sussex), Space Quantum Technologies Developer, Craft Prospect, Space Quantum Technologies

Dr Jamie Wickham-Eade, (Ex Kent), Study Manager and Systems Engineer, Airbus

Tuesday, 6 July:

Dr Lientjie de Villiers, (Ex Herts), Quantitative Analytics manager in the Risk Portfolio Modelling and Forecasting team, Santander

Dr Philip Marsden, (Ex Southampton) Physicist and Managing Director, Unitive Design and Analysis

Dr Jefferson Ridgeway, Head of Science & Mechanical Engineering, Ultra Electronics

Wednesday 7 July:

Dr Adam Bozson, (Ex RHUL), Machine Learning Scientist, Dyad

Dr Heather McAslan, (Ex Sussex), Data Science Lead, InCrowd Sports

Dr Simon Steel, Tritium Scientist, UKAEA 



GRADnet Online Quantum Computing Workshop: “awesome” event!

On 28 April 2021 GRADnet delivered the online quantum computing workshop to over 35 SEPnet and international delegates.  The face-to-face event was unfortunately postponed from April 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Thank you to Dr Eran Ginossar, Advanced Technology Institute, University of Surrey for delivering this workshop which was described by one of the delegates as “awesome”!

Thank you to our high-profile speakers from around the globe for participating in this event and for covering a variety of topics:

Delegates said: “the workshop brought a number of strands together and presented them in a largely understandable form.” They found the speakers “outstanding” and the talks “really informative with lots of pertinent information”.  They appreciated the “variety of topics, with good explanations” but wanted an extra day or two!

GRADnet hopes to deliver a physical event in quantum computing in 2022-3 with opportunities for networking hosted by the University of Surrey.


Running a successful virtual conference – Optics and Photonics for Scientific Progress (OPSP 2021)

Article by Hall Dorrington, University of Kent

The SEPnet student led conferences are an annual series of networking events created and organized by postgraduate students from SEPnet universities. The scheme awards students with the funding and guidance necessary to create a 2-day conference on a subject of their own liking. On the 13th-14th of April 2021, ‘Optics and Photonics for Scientific Progress (OPSP 2021)’ took place, accumulating a total number of 99 visitors throughout, and a concurrent peak of 41.

Planning OPSP2021 took over a year from its earliest conceptions, having its origins as an idea for a one-day event focused on employability and career development for students. This initial idea was a consequence of networking between two student chapters of The Optical Society (OSA), representing the Applied Optics Group (AOG) at the University of Kent and the BioPhotonics Group at the University of Surrey respectively, a chapter connection that was facilitated by Yann Amouroux, director of OSA Europe. Soon later, the idea was adopted by Julien Camard, of the AOG, who further developed the idea into a plan for a full 2-day conference aimed at enhancing optics in science which he proposed to SEPnet and successfully won funding with.

As time progressed, the overhanging pandemic continued in its potency and we eventually made the decision to begin planning for a virtual conference. The task before us was challenging, how to orchestrate an engaging, enjoyable, and informative conference for attendees who would ultimately be staring at a screen for the whole time? Our solution was to create a virtual conference space, to simulate a real conference and not just host another series of zoom meetings! This was possible using ‘’, an online resource that enabled us to create a virtual world in which to host our conference.

The result, it “was amazing”, said an attendee. Another remarked that the “environment was very informal and laidback [which] made everything very enjoyable.” The use of ‘’ was particularly popular, with one guest saying it was a “brilliant way to make virtual conferences not be boring.”

We also thrived in hosting a multinational event. Going virtual meant we were able to secure speakers from around the world, with some joining from as far as Canada, Mexico, and the US. Likewise, international attendees were able to join effortlessly, and at a fraction of the usual CO2 costs normally incurred in traveling to an international event.

One of our initial goals in organizing the conference was to strike a balance between academic presentations/industry professional career guidance with a range of personal development workshops. We were proud to have executed this well, having “many different topics” says an attendee.

A prominent feature of the conference was the shared poster session, which took place in ‘’. The cohort of optics posters were merged with entries from another conference run in parallel to OPSP 2021. This extended our networking to include particle physics students. Attendees mingled amongst the posters as they would in real life, much to their enjoyment. At the end of the session attendees made their way to a main stage, where the winners were announced.

Congratulations to Anja Borre of Danmarks Tekniske Universitet for winning the Public’s Choice Best Optics Poster, and to Paulo Robalinho of Universidade do Porto for winning the Judge’s Choice Best Joint Poster.

Deserving of congratulations are the team of students that made OPSP2021 happen, from Kent: Julien Camard, Rachel Sully, Adrian Fernandez Uceda, Alejandro Martinez Jimenez and Hal Dorrington; and from Surrey: Gavrielle Untracht and Abdullah Durrani. We are also all very grateful to Cristobel Soares, SEPnet Graduate Network Manager who has given us guidance and inspiration throughout. Finally, special thanks are due to Julien and Gavrielle, who worked wonderfully to coordinate the conference and to lead us as a team so effectively.

Personally, I had the opportunity during the conference to chair a panel discussion featuring eminent scientists. To be given the opportunity to demonstrate professionalism and to be part of such a knowledgeable discussion was a brilliant experience, one which without running a SEPnet conference I would not have been granted. All of us members of the team have learnt a lot from stepping up to the challenge of running a conference and we are so much more confident now as a result.

Reflecting on our experience, we can say that is has been a lot of work, but overall, it has been very rewarding and has left us proud of our accomplishment. The process of inviting speakers to the conference was a great opportunity to network and build connections with renowned researchers.

Running a SEPnet conference is a rare opportunity to gain great confidence and proficiency at interfacing with professionals in the field. If you are considering applying to lead a student conference – do it! Say yes and grow. 



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