All posts by Cristobel Soares


Why sign up for a GRADnet Winter School? A PGR’s perspective.

Cumberland lodge is every bit as striking as its reputation implies. Just 15 minutes from Woking station, and situated in Windsor Park, it is both convenient and secluded. I felt very fortunate to be staying there for the GRADnet winter school 18-20 February 2019. It’s a comfortable and well catered venue, with good menus for all dietary requirements.

The winter school aims to cover leadership skills and discusses the current understanding of best practice and common problems. This year it was led by Dr. Trevor Long, who has an outstanding background in the field, as well as a perfectly tuned approach to a practical learning experience.

This is illustrated by a study of the NASA Columbia disaster of 2003. Accounts of the disaster are separated into the perspectives of four figures who were closely involved and the group is split into teams. Each team reports on the contribution of one of the four teams. The Columbia study was very engaging and effective, certainly the highlight of the workshop for many people there.

Many of the concepts and observations on leadership presented were very interesting and thoughtful. It signposted issues important to teamwork in both academia and industry.  An additional feature of the workshop brought together five industry team leaders to aid our understanding of how to put our new leadership skills into practice.  Some of the content did come across as a little enigmatic and it was certainly presented from the perspective of industry.

The trip to Windsor also deserves a mention. It was an excellent demonstration of the sensitivity of physicists to location based variance in the value of beer. The town is charming, of special interest to international students, and the castle is also pretty.

This workshop has a lot to recommend it.

Thank you to SEPnet PGRs from QMUL and Southampton for their contribution in writing this article.

Employer panel with ingenie, Ultra Electronics, Blue/Red Optima, Stifel and the UK Space Agency.


Students participating in the “Marshmallow Challenge”!


Columbia Space Shuttle Mission in Windsor!

The GRADnet Winter School took place on 18-20 February 2019 at Cumberland Lodge, Great Park, Windsor. Dr Trevor Long, consultant, led the workshop for over 30 delegates.

This workshop was an integrated learning event where delegates developed insights into the importance and nature of leadership and effective team working.  These are skills they will require in any career in academia, government or the private sector.

Formed around a multi-media case simulation of the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle mission NASA engineers and leaders seek to understand the nature and threat associated with a technical problem that occurred on launch. Over the course of the mission, they analyse the damage, assess the risks, and decide what to do.  Leadership, organisational culture, communication, personality characteristics, formal systems and job positions are amongst many complex issues that affected the course of the decision-making process.

A panel of employers shared their experiences and the challenges they have faced when leading a team in a senior role on the second day:  Selim Cavanagh, ingenie; Rikki Douglas, Ultra Electronics ; Jason Rolles, Blue Optima; Sheela Sharma, Stifel (Europe) and Alex Shepherd, UK Space Agency

Thank you to the employers for their participation and to Trevor for making this workshop a success.

SEPnet PGRs who attended the workshop said:

  • This simulation provided “an important skillset for postgraduate students”;
  • The event was packed, enjoyable and provided a thought-provoking simulation and talks (especially on the importance of communication). There was also an informative careers panel;
  • The best aspects for me are that it has motivated a lot of thoughts and has challenged me to think about myself. The employer panel was extremely productive.  A lot of good insight was shared.

Marshmallow Challenge winning team:

Kent: Emerald Taylor, Alex Paul, Luke Cornwell and Akiko Sato (Kent).  QMUL:  Jesse Coburn.

L-R:  Emerald, Alex, Jesse, Luke and Akiko

Well done for constructing a 22″ tower! Amazing feat of engineering with spaghetti and tape!




Stellar event at University of Hertfordshire!

The Interface between observation and theory workshop took place 17-18 January 2019 and was kindly hosted by the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.

Over 40 delegates attended the workshop and they enjoyed the good range of talks from exoplanets to cosmology:

  • “Great range of speakers, almost everyone got something relevant and useful”
  • “The talks were given clearly with space for questions. Good to meet fellow researchers and have space for discussion.”
  • One of the best aspects of the programme was the machine learning talk as it’s a new thing potentially useful for everybody.”

Thank you to all our speakers for participating in this event and making it a success:

Ben Burningham, University of Hertfordshire: Characterising exoplanets from theory and data driven perspectives.

Noelia Noel, University of Surrey: Resolved stellar populations and star clusters in Local Group galaxies: Unravelling galaxy formation and evolution.

Jim Dale, University of Hertfordshire: Modelling star formation in the Milky Way.

Jim Geach, University of Hertfordshire: Machine-learning techniques in Astrophysics.

Sebastian Hoenig, University of Southampton: Stars, dust, and outflows: Modelling the infrared emission from AGN.

Claudia Maraston, University of Portsmouth: Stellar population synthesis models.

Chiaki Kobayashi, University of Hertfordshire: Interpreting the Universe both near and far with cosmological simulations.

Thank you to the lead academics for organising this workshop – (Sugata Kaviraj, Jan Forbrichand, (all University of Hertfordshire), Sean Ryan (all University of Hertfordshire), Kathy Head (Research Administrator, University of Hertfordshire) and Cristobel Soares-Smith (GRADnet Manager, SEPnet).


Daphne Jackson Fellow ignites passion for astrophysics amongst children in care

Daphne Jackson Fellow Dr Carolyn Devereux, based at the University of Hertfordshire, has led a programme of events to engage children in care in astrophysics research.

Carolyn, a foster carer herself, organised bespoke observatory open days for children in care and their foster carers, and young people who are carers.

One event attracted 120 attendees new to astronomy, from toddlers and teenagers to adults, with activities such as planetarium shows, lab experiments and telescope demonstrations.

The programme is designed to accommodate the possibility of challenging behaviour, address traditionally low attendance rates among this audience and respond to specific learning needs, such as autism.

Carolyn who is based within the School of Physics, Astronomy and Maths, Centre for Astrophysics Research, at the University of Hertfordshire, worked with the council-run Hertfordshire Virtual School, which brings together children who are looked after.

At a Hertfordshire Virtual School residential event for Year 10 children in care, Carolyn organised a ‘Mission to Mars’ session to help motivate the children for their science GCSE. A school educational adviser said the children’s’ “thirst for science was definitely quenched”.

The University of Hertfordshire runs a wide-ranging astrophysics and astronomy public engagement and outreach programme, for which Bayfordbury Observatory, the University’s own teaching facility, acts as the hub.

Carolyn worked for the General Electric Company (GEC) in industrial research before her 12-year career break. She is returning to astrophysics research with a Daphne Jackson Fellowship, sponsored by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.


Advanced Materials Workshop: 8-9 April 2019 at RHUL

Register now!

Who: 1st and 2nd Year Physics postgraduate researchers working on theoretical and experimental advanced materials wanting to learn what each other can do.

What:  A  2-day residential workshop that describes the background science of advanced materials and experimental and theoretical techniques to study them.

When: 8-9 April 2019

Where:  Royal Holloway, University of London (Accommodation at Travelodge twin occupancy)

Numbers: Circa 25-30 delegates

This residential school provides an overview of research on advanced materials. It comprises lectures, tutorials, hands-on computing practice and, working in small groups, students will write a proposal for central facilities resource. Assuming only a knowledge of undergraduate level physics, it should be beneficial to students working on both theoretical and/or experimental projects.

Strong correlations: The session will cover the theoretical concepts necessary to understand strongly correlated systems.

Numerical modelling: This session will introduce Monte Carlo, molecular dynamics, and first-principles quantum mechanical simulation.

Optical spectroscopies: This session will cover the basics of optical spectroscopy, spectrometers and spectrographs using photoluminescence, Raman spectroscopy and absorption spectroscopy.

X-ray and neutron scattering: This session will cover neutron and synchrotron sources, instrumentation, basic scattering theory, structure determination, magnetic structures and excitations, lattice dynamics and diffusion.

Register here.  Registration deadline 1 March 2019.

This event is free (SEPnet pays for your accommodation and course fees) for SEPnet postgraduate researchers and travel expenses incurred can be claimed from your Physics Department.


GRADnet Winter School 18-20 February 2019: Register Now!

Who: All SEPnet postgraduate researchers who want to develop their leadership and team-building skills

What: This 3-day residential school will focus on the skills required for effective leadership and team-working. Different leadership styles will be presented and discussed. Each student attendee will be given the opportunity to have their preferred team-working style evaluated using the Belbin model.

When: 18-20 February 2019

Where: Cumberland Lodge, The Great Park, Windsor, Berkshire.

Numbers: Circa 25-30 delegates

Core activity:  Columbia’s Final Mission

This 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. Over the course of the mission, managers and engineers at NASA analysed the damage, assessed the risks, and decided what to do. Members of the NASA team had different perspectives, opinions and views about the damage, its effects and therefore the actions that would need to be taken. Leadership, organisational culture, communication, personality characteristics, formal systems and job positions are amongst many complex issues that affected the course of the decision-making process. In the event, at the end of the mission, the shuttle disintegrated as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, killing the seven astronauts.

Participants will analyse the case using materials supplied by NASA under the guidance of a consultant. As the mission unfolds, they will work in teams, each team taking the role of one of the key NASA managers or engineers. A team experiences only those events and has access only to information that that person had at the time of the mission. This adds a rich dimension to the case experience as participants recognise how perceptions of the same event can vary. With a combination of team working and plenary discussion, key principles and applications of leadership, management.

What students said about this year’s Winter School:

  • No prior knowledge required. Very useful; I hadn’t considered that organisational leadership would be completely different (it required skills and considerations) to small group leadership.  This course opened my eyes to new useful and practical concepts which I didn’t know existed.
  •  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. 
  • The programme was typically very well run and extremely engaging.

Register here. Registration deadline, Monday, 21 January 2019.

This event is free (SEPnet pays for your accommodation and course fees) for SEPnet postgraduate researchers and travel expenses incurred can be claimed from your Physics Department. 


PhDs welcome opportunity to meet employers who hire physicists!

Over 50 postgraduate researchers, academics and employers attended the IOP/SEPnet Careers Panel event at Hallam Conference Centre in central London.

Dr Elaine Hickmott, EH Enterprises, ran a short workshop called “Connections and Conversations for Career Success – A practical networking masterclass” which students found very “useful”.

Attendees said the event was “a great networking event” and that they “enjoyed it alot”. Several SEPnet students said they planned on attending future GRADnet events to meet more employers.

“I really enjoyed the event, it opened my eyes to some specific career paths that could be available to me at the end of my postgraduate degree. There was a great mix of different sectors that are looking for people with the skillset provided by a physics PhD.” (Surrey PGR)

Employers “found it very interesting and really enjoyed talking with the students”. Thank you to our employer panel members who participated:

Martin Arnold, Part Qualified Patent Attorney, WP Thompson (Intellectual Property), Tracey Berry, Senior Lecturer in Physics, Royal Holloway University of London, Alex Cote, Data Scientist, Rank Group, Claire Elliott, Senior Research Scientist, National Physical Laboratory, Russell Richardson, Director, RBA Acoustics Ltd, Jason Rolles, founder and Managing director, BlueOptima and RedOptima, Rosh Sellahewa, Manager, Deloitte and Sheela Sharma, Director, Stifel, Stock Investment Company.

Thank you to Elaine for chairing the event and Vishanti Fox, Careers & CPD Manager at the IOP for co-hosting this event with SEPnet.





GRADnet Induction Day: A great success!

Over 120 first year postgraduate researchers attended the GRADnet Induction day on 24 October 2018 in central London. This was a great opportunity for students to meet fellow SEPnet postgraduate researchers from around the region.

Students chose two out of 4 workshops to attend and the feedback was mainly very positive.

Getting your research published presented by Sarah Whitehouse and Tom Sharp: Institute of Physics: “Good session, very informative, with good pacing and tips!”

Python presented by Dr Tim Kinnear and Leon Schoonderwoerd, University of Kent: “Really well presented! Clear to understand and follow for someone who has no knowledge of coding before”

Introduction to research data management presented by Dr Alice Motes, University of Surrey and Dr Juan Bicarregui, Science Technology Facilities Council: Very eye-opening, reminds you of aspects of data-based research that can easily be overlooked. Very interesting to see the solutions and ideas involved in open science.”

Science Communication Skills presented by Dr Martin Archer, QMUL and Cordelia Scott, University of Portsmouth: “Good at introducing ways to get involved in public engagement tips on giving talks. Lots of interaction to give first taste of communication planning and set up.” 

Thank you to all our presenters and to Cristobel Soares-Smith, Graduate Network Administrator for organising this event.

Students at the GRADnet welcome talk.


Moving forward for 2nd Years 2018 Training Day: Good opportunity to meet up with fellow PGRs!

About 60 SEPnet PGRs attended this training event held on Wednesday, 17 October 2018 to support PGRs in their second year.

Students chose two out of four workshops and student feedback was very positive:

How to write a fellowship application (Workshop lead: Prof Peter McDonald, Surrey): Good workshop, explained the process clearly and ideas for presenting research ideas.

Practical Innovation (Workshop lead: Julia Shalet, Product Doctor):  I would highly recommend the workshop as it gives you a good and realistic view on what to consider when starting a business.

Research Data Management (Workshop lead: Dr Juan Biccaregui, STFC/Dr Alice Motes, Surrey):  Good!  Ideas heard before, but made me think about it and motivated me to improve.

Writing better software for research (Workshop Lead: Claire Hepwood, RHUL): This was extremely useful.  I initially thought it might be basic for me but it taught me lots of practices I never knew about before. 

Thank you to our presenters and to Cristobel Soares-Smith, Graduate Network Administrator for organising this event. Professor Sean Ryan, Executive Director, SEPnet, welcomes delegates.


The interface between Observation and Theory in Astrophysics: 17-18 January 2019

Registration now open!

Who: SEPnet postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers in astronomy, astrophysics and closely allied fields.

What: A 2-day school led by senior researchers in SEPnet comprising lectures and workshops.

When: 17-18 January 2019

Where: University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield (Accommodation is at the Travelodge Hatfield Central, twin rooms, double occupancy.)

Numbers: circa 30 delegates

The Advanced Physics School on the interface between observation and theory in astrophysics will address how to interpret astronomical observations in the new data-rich era. The sessions will cover theory and modelling relating to a number of current research areas in stellar, Galactic and extragalactic astrophysics, including using simulations and applying statistical tools to link theory and observational data. In particular, the School will address the rapidly developing area of machine learning and its application at the interface between observation and theory in astrophysics.

The School will work its way up through spatial scales from planetary (in the context of exoplanet modelling), black hole, galactic (star formation), extragalactic (with a particular focus on stellar population synthesis models and also AGN), and on to galaxy formation models in cosmological contexts (and the role of cosmological simulations).

With experts from across SEPnet presenting sessions in their areas of expertise, it is intended that the School will benefit students over a wide cross-section of astrophysics. Students will learn not only about the specifics of approaches they may utilise in their current research, but also learn about modelling and simulation techniques being applied in other fields of astrophysics that they may want or need to utilise in their future careers.

Register here. Registration deadline 7 December 2018.