02Oct/20

SEPnet launches new careers resource for schools!

We have developed a set of careers postcards showcasing a range of careers which use physics qualifications or skills. These highlight employers in the SEPnet region which offer relevant roles and give information on the levels of qualifications needed.

The new Gatsby Careers Benchmarks, especially benchmark 4, highlight the expectation on teachers to embed careers into their classroom teaching. These cards are an easy way to introduce STEM careers into classrooms, and all are mapped to the KS3 curriculum.

We owe a huge thanks to NUSTEM as these were developed based on NUSTEM resources, and they have been fantastically generous and supportive throughout the process. We have utilised the 15 STEM attributes laid out by NUSTEM, based on previous work of the WISE Campaign and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

We are also very grateful for the support of all the organisations who have contributed including: AWE, Brady Mallalieu Architects, CGG, Fat Fish Games, Forest Learning Alliance, Framestore, Jacobs, The Met Office, Millais Alliance, NPL, RSSL, Surrey Satellite Technology, Thames Water and University of Surrey.

The cards are available to download and print for free here. If you would like any more information about the cards, or advice on how to use them, please email outreach@sepnet.ac.uk.

30Sep/20

STEM Careers Postcards

We have developed a set of careers postcards showcasing a range of careers which use physics qualifications or skills. These highlight employers in the SEPnet region which offer relevant roles and give information on the levels of qualifications needed.

The new Gatsby Careers Benchmarks, especially benchmark 4, highlight the expectation on teachers to embed careers into their classroom teaching. These cards are an easy way to introduce STEM careers into classrooms, and all are mapped to the KS3 curriculum.

We owe a huge thanks to NUSTEM as these were developed based on NUSTEM resources, and they have been fantastically generous and supportive throughout the process.  We have utilised the 15 STEM attributes laid out by NUSTEM, based on previous work of the WISE Campaign and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

We are also very grateful for the support of all the organisations who have contributed including: AWE, Brady Mallalieu Architects, CGG, Fat Fish Games, Forest Learning Alliance, Framestore, Jacobs, The Met Office, Millais Alliance, NPL, RSSL, Surrey Satellite Technology, Thames Water and University of Surrey.

The cards are available to download and print for free here. If you would like any more information about the cards, or advice on how to use them, please email outreach@sepnet.ac.uk.

23Sep/20

Organising a virtual conference during a global pandemic!

Virginia Apostolopou, PhD student, Soft Matter Group, University of Surrey, shares her experience of organising a SEPnet Student-led Conference: “Soft Matter: the unseen science all around us”, during challenging times.

In my first year as a PhD student at the University of Surrey, I heard about SEPnet and the exciting activities they organise for postgraduate students. Previous institutes that I have attended didn’t have these opportunities for training and networking and so I was very excited to take part in the workshops and the activities organised by the network. One of the activities that caught my attention from the beginning was the student-led conference. I loved the idea of a conference organised by postgraduates and I kept it in the back of my mind as something I will love to try in the future.

At the beginning of my second year of my PhD, I started discussing with people from my group at Surrey, the idea of submitting a conference proposal. Our motivation was the diversity of our projects; although we were all in the Soft Matter group, we worked in different projects, from industrial applications to applications of nano materials. We wanted to translate this diversity and multi-disciplinary nature of Soft Matter physics into a conference that will bring together students working from seemingly different projects, but in the core, the physics of their research is very similar. Our initial intention of a multi-disciplinary conference was reflected in the speakers we chose to invite: a group of six, well-established researchers from different fields of soft matter physics and different institutes agreed enthusiastically to support our conference by presenting their work.

By late February everything was ready for the conference: the schedule, the website, speakers, accommodation and the catering requirements. It was to be held at the University of Southampton, on the 25th-27th March. At the same time, more and more news started to emerge about a concentrated epidemic in a region in China, now spreading rapidly to the rest of the word. One after the other, big conferences and scientific meetings began announcing their cancellations. By early-March we were still hopeful that since we were going to be a small conference we would be able to go ahead. As we were getting closer to the dates we realised that we should face the situation sensibly and cancel the conference until further notice.

We initially decided to reschedule the conference for early September. Our decision was based on our belief that the main purpose of the conference was for the students to share their work and create future collaborations. We thought that having a virtual conference instead would dismiss that purpose. Technology is an essential tool in these weird times but still, it cannot entirely replace personal interactions among scientific communities. However, eventually, we had to face the reality of our times and rather reluctantly had to move the conference online.

To our surprise the conference was well-received! We managed to book all our invited speakers and almost all the original delegates were able to participate. Some of our speakers suggested opening the conference to students outside SEPnet. We thought that during these difficult times, it is important to open this kind of opportunity to everyone in the scientific community. We were delighted to see delegates from all over the world joining our virtual conference.

I think that overall the conference was a great success. It definitely exceeded my expectations regarding networking and engagement. I am very proud of the scientific programme that we managed to put together and the discussions that took place during the conference.

It was all the result of an excellent collaboration with a group of extremely talented people: Katrin Elidottir, Louie Scott, Malin Schulz, Mireya Borg, University of Surrey, Rhiannon Harries, University of Sussex and of course, Cristobel Soares, SEPnet Graduate Network Manager, who helped and guided us along the way.

It is very impressive to see what a team of creative and passionate people can accomplish in a these very challenging and uncertain times!

 

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