4th Joint SEPnet and WRIPA Workshop


The Future of Physics Teaching

New ways of teaching, assessing and embedding employabilty and equality

Thursday 30 June 2022, Institute of Physics, London.

Recent challenges, including the pandemic and changes within HE, have had a dramatic impact on undergraduate teaching, future skills needs and the world of work.
The IOP’s recent new research on the critical role of physics skills reveals that while they underpin productive industries in every part of the UK, there is still significant unmet demand for these skills which is impacting employers’ ability to grow and innovate.
In this context SEPnet and WRIPA are hosting a one-day workshop to explore how physics teaching and assessment can change to equip students from all backgrounds with skills and knowledge for future labour markets.
We will hear how the IOP will support academics to make changes to their teaching and assessment to encourage innovation and meet new accreditation requirements, We will also share best practice examples, in physics and other disciplines, on how to effectively ebbed curricular employabilty skills and implement equality, diversity and inclusion to ensure under-represented student realise their career potential.

Organised by:

Claire Hepwood, Employer Liaison Director, South East Physics Network (SEPnet) c.hepwood@rhul.ac.uk

Dr Andrew Hirst, WRIPA Manager, Department of Physics, University of York andrew.hirst@york.ac.uk

Beth Medley, Employability and Placement Officer, White Rose Industrial Physics Academy (WRIPA), Department of Physics, University of York beth.medley@york.ac.uk


Chaired by Professor Sir William Wakeham
The new IOP accreditation process – more flexibility in curriculum design
How do we get the balance right between employability, skills and academic rigor and encourage innovation while also ensuring compliance with accreditation? Are they two different things?
Robyn Henriegel, Accreditation and Professional Standards Manager, Institute of Physics

More information on the IOP Degree Accreditation Framework

Effective blended and hybrid learning in HE
How do we support staff in adopting inclusive and engaging teaching practices that promote success for all students?
Dr Catherine (Kay) Hack, Principal Adviser (Learning and Teaching) Advance-HE
Learning from Engineering
Can we equip physics students with problem-solving, resilience and teamworking skills through real-world group projects?
How do we avoid siloed learning? Is programme-level teaching or portfolio assessment the answer?
Professor Danielle George, Associate VP and Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering, University of Manchester
How we deliver effective online learning
Can technology be used to replace experimental work in the first two years of a physics degree?
How does online learning design in modular physics teaching enhance the student experience, employability outcomes and close disability gaps?
What impact does tuition and assessment strategy have on outcomes in level 1 / 2 physics modules?
Dr Helen Jane Fraser, Director of Research and Senior Lecturer in Astronomy, School of Physical Sciences, The Open University
 How do we assess now?
How have departments modified assessments following the loss of invigilated tests and examinations?
What interventions and new ideas will transform assessment?
Dr Nicolas Labrosse, Senior Lecturer (Physics and Astronomy), University of Glasgow
How to implement a physics-related micro placement module into a physics degree
Focusing on the benefits for both students and employers
Dr Samantha Pugh, Associate Professor in STEM Education, University of Leeds
How can we diversify our physics intake?
Can data become a barrier to progress?
• Tackling the gender and attainment gap.
Professor Brad Gibson, Head of Department of Physics and Mathematics, University of Hull
Working with businesses to improve the employability of under-represented students in STEM
How are universities supporting disabled students to find jobs?
• How do we prepare under-represented students for the labour market?
• Engaging students and breaking down barriers
Emily Huns, Head of Careers and Entrepreneurship, University of Sussex


GRADnet Online Workshop: The Application of Neural networks to Image Recognition – really insightful!

On 19 and 20 May over 30 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers attended the GRADnet online workshop:  The Application of Neural networks to Image Recognition.

The course was aimed at anyone interested in modern data science and AI.  The focus was the implementation (in Python) of neural networks and applying them in order to classify images. Delegates were taught how to first build some simple networks with a few convolutional layers, then how to exploit popular deep neural networks such as Xception, VGG16, Resnet and MobileNet.  

Thank you to Dr Michal Gnacik, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at University of Portsmouth who designed and delivered the course on behalf of GRADnet.  

Attendees had the opportunity to look at the transfer-learning and hyper-parameters tuning and how to use them to achieve high-accuracy predictions.  Comet ML was used to track, compare, explain, and optimize their experiments.   Kaggle image datasets helped recognise emotions from the images of people’s faces and delegates looked at how deep learning can be used in converting speech to text using established systems such as DeepSpeech or Silero.

Delegates found the course “really interesting” and “useful”.  One student said “Thank you so much for the course. It has been really insightful and I can’t wait to have a go at the exercises!”.

GRADnet and the School of Mathematics and Physics at Portsmouth plan to collaborate once again and run this course in person in 2022-23!  Look out for the GRADnet Training Programme 2022-23 which will be launched in September.




GRADnet Workshop: “A guide to virtual networking” incredibly useful!

GRADnet is delighted to be collaborating again with Skillfluence to deliver professional skills courses to SEPnet postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers to help them develop their transferrable skills in the workplace. 

Thank you to Dr Hannah Roberts who delivered a 3-hour workshop over two afternoons on 10 & 17 May to help postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers to:

  • Set up a main professional social media platform and have an all-star profile using scaffolding templates.
  • Consciously expand their network in under 15 minutes per day and become visible.
  • Learn how to introduce themselves and follow-up on opportunities using simple easy to follow scripts whilst maintaining integrity.
  • Measure and test their progress to ensure the time spent on social media is paying dividends.

Attendees found the workshop “very informative”, a “great help” and “incredibly useful”.

Hannah is a career coach and professional skills trainer. During her extensive academic and industrial career, she took research from concept to start-up. Since 2018, she has been a qualified and regulated coach; trained in Talent Dynamics profiling. Specialising in team dynamics, career planning, online networking and social media skills, research planning, commercialisation and management tools. Hannah has a particular passion for diversity and inclusion and women’s leadership development.

Next year GRADnet will be offering an online 1-day workshop on “Social Media for Researchers” on 7 February 2023.  Look out for our 2022-23 Training Programme which will be launched in September 2022.



There are reasons girls don’t study physics – and they don’t include not liking maths

SEPnet Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Dr Olivia Keenan, and Senior Outreach Fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Jen Gupta have authored an article for The Conversation outlining SEPnet’s response to the comments made recently to the Commons Science and Technology Committee on girls and Physics. 

Olivia and Jen lay out the evidence around girls aptitude in physics and maths and discuss the research into the real reasons fewer girls than boys pursue physics to A-level and beyond. 

Please share this article with your networks to raise the importance of this issue. The full article can be read through The Conversation


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!


First F2F GRADnet event in two years:  Advanced Materials Workshop at RHUL

Around 20 delegates from across the SEPnet institutes attended the Advanced Materials workshop on Monday, 28 March 2022 at Royal Holloway.

The workshop included the following sessions:

  • Dr Sam Carr:  The theory of strongly correlated systems
  • Dr David Voneshen:  Neutron scattering

The workshop concluded with a proposal writing and review session in which the delegates came up with their own applications for experiments at a large facility. These spanned an exciting range of science covering organic thin films, superconductors and spintronic systems. Only one could be awarded time though with the “panel” backing the thin film proposal.

One of the delegates said “I think the workshop was really great and I am hoping that there will be others in the future that I can take part in.”  They thought the “presentations were comprehensible and the lecturers really friendly and easy to communicate with”.   They found the session on how to prepare the beam proposals “a really good idea”.

 GRADnet hopes to be able to offer a 2-day event next time to cover some of the sessions in more detail as it was not possible this year due to the pandemic.

Thank you to Jon Goff, Professor of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics, Department of Physics, Royal Holloway University of London who organised this event on behalf of GRADnet and Dr Sam Carr, Lecturer in Physics University of Kent and Dr David Voneshen, ISIS, Science Technology Facilities Council, for their valued contribution to this event.


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.


SEPnet Summer Placements 2022 – Do you have a project/work experience for a physics or maths undergraduate or PhD student?

SEPnet organises over 80 summer placements a year for all 2nd and 3rd year physics and maths undergraduate and PhD students at the above universities and is seeking 8-week plus projects in industry or research in areas such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, programming, product design and testing or science communication.

Who can apply?
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
• Match-funding available for SMEs!

What employers have said:
‘Very satisfied with the whole process, organised and straightforward, with good students.’
‘We took SEPnet students for the second year running and have been very impressed with the calibre, their capabilities and the general high standard. For your records we have just made a permanent job offer to one of the students…’.

Register your placement project, or projects, online here: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/SEPnet_Summer_Placements_2022_Employer_Registration/ by Friday 11 February. Email summerplacements@sepnet.ac.uk for further information.


Portsmouth ICG Public Engagement Team win Prestigious Royal Astronomical Society Annie Maunder Medal

Dr Nicolas Bonne, Dr Jen Gupta and Dr Coleman Krawczyk have been awarded the RAS’s Annie Maunder Medal for their work on the Tactile Universe Project. The Annie Maunder Medal is awarded annually for outstanding outreach work.

The Tactile Universe project delivers workshops that make astronomy accessible to vision-impaired children. Their work enables children between the ages of 7 and 14, to experience the benefits of a multi-sensory learning experience, inspiring them to the wonders of the universe with 3d models of galaxies, the Solar System and using sound. A newly funded STFC project will enable the project to expand its interests to the communicate research into gravitational waves. In addition to delivering workshops, the team have created resource kits and train other practitioners and museums to share knowledge so that the project goals are disseminated widely across the UK. The project has received international recognition through invited conference talks, and media coverage, including an appearance on BBC’s The Sky at Night, and has collaborated with an international installation at the British Science Festival. The Tactile Universe also has international reach through the project’s website, where educators across the world can access developed lesson plans, presentations, and instructions for how to create 3d printed models to deliver astronomy classes to children regardless of their level of vision. The Tactile Universe project and its team are commended for their continuing efforts to create a more inclusive environment that brings astronomy to all.

SEPnet send the Tactile Universe team our heartiest congratulations on this fantastic achievement. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with Nic, Jen and Coleman and look forward to continuing to do so through the exciting next phase of the project.


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.”