A week in the working world of…………Melanie Windridge

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At high school I liked physics.  I don’t know why, I just did.  It was interesting, thought-provoking, I liked experiments perhaps….  So by GCSE I knew I wanted to study physics further, so I took physics and maths at A-level (including further maths AS), and I also did economics. Now I wish I’d done chemistry too, but back then I didn’t like it.  I would have rather studied French or English lit.  Anyway, I got my A-levels and went to Bristol University where I did an MSci in physics with a year in Europe.  I went to Grenoble, France, for my 3rd year, where I learned a lot about skiing and French but very little physics.  But I also got out of my comfort zone and met many inspiring people so it was a wonderful experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed both Bristol and Grenoble.

I’m a great fan of work experience because I like trying things, so during some university summer holidays I would work in physics labs.  I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory after the 2nd year and Oxford University after the 3rd year for one month each.  RAL was really good but I didn’t enjoy my time in Oxford, just because of the project I was given.  It nearly put me off physics completely.  I think work experience can be really valuable, but you need to be able to assess why things are good or bad and use that information.

Finishing university was the end of one of my ‘steps’ – meaning a big chunk of time when I was stable and knew what I was doing. I had no idea what I should do next; it was a bit intimidating.  I was tired and needed a rest from physics after finals.  And I didn’t think I wanted to do physics anymore.  The Oxford work placement had made me think a physics career wasn’t for me, and I was demoralised and upset because I didn’t quite get a first, so I think I felt a bit rubbish.  I went travelling.  My parents had always encouraged it, so I worked over the summer then took my backpack and left.  In the end I worked and travelled for two years.  I went to south and central America, then Canada, then went back to London to work for 6 months (in a fashion agency – a far cry from Physics! I also modelled for a designer at London Fashion Week and helped at sales. It was fun, but never stimulating.) Then I went on to Australia and Asia.  It sounds like a lot of fun, and it was mostly, though there were things I did then that I’m proud of too – it wasn’t all just messing around.  I learnt Spanish in South America; I walked the Inca Trail in Peru, which started me on a greater journey of trekking, and later climbing; I learnt to dive in Honduras; I improved my skiing (another passion) in Canada; I worked in Sydney, Australia; I lived on a yacht for a month, sailing up the Queensland coast; I trekked for a month in the Himalayas; I took the Trans-Siberian express back to Europe….  That’s not much to do with physics but it shaped me.  Or maybe I was always that way inclined.  I’m quite adventurous, but I like to learn from my experiences, and I think everything through a lot.  And all this time, I was still thinking about physics.  I visited some telescopes and observatories in Australia.  At some point during these years I had heard about fusion, and while I was working in London I had visited Imperial College and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy to talk to people.  By the time I returned from my Australia/Asia trip I knew I wanted to do a PhD in fusion energy.

However, it wasn’t that simple.  It was July and PhD funding is usually given out in March/April, so I had missed it.  I didn’t want to do anything else, so I decided to wait and apply the next year.  In the meantime I did another 6 months work in London in fashion, then managed to get myself a work placement in Lausanne, Switzerland, working on fusion.  This was like heaven – fusion, French and skiing all in one place!  I had the best time and still have some great friends from then.  But I came back to England and did my PhD.  I lived out near Oxford, by Culham Science Centre, and once a week or once every two I would go to Imperial College.  So I was back in physics and I loved working in fusion.  The timescales can be long and frustrating with such big experiments, but I loved working towards something, especially something as dramatic as fusion.  So the PhD was a good decision for me.

Anyway, finishing the PhD was the end of another ‘step’ so I had to reassess again (never an easy process).  In the last 5 years I have been freelance, doing a mixture of physics-related jobs.  This is really unusual for a physicist, so you shouldn’t take me as the best example.  You could go on to be an academic, or work in industry, or do something entirely different like finance or patent law or documentary making.  Physics gives you lots of options.  I have been lecturing on fusion and doing other communication work, including TV.  I wrote a book, and will write more. I’m currently writing a book on the Northern Lights, and blending some of the things I love – like science and adventure – to inspire people to see the science in the beauty around them and to appreciate it. Because science is an exploration and that’s wonderful.  I worked for two years for an invention company, where I actually did invent things for big clients (it’s really hard…).  I’m now working with a fusion start-up company that is trying to get to fusion faster by designing smaller, cheaper machines.  This is very exciting.  I work in physics education too, as a consultant for the Ogden Trust, and I’m an ambassador for the Your Life campaign, which aims to show the myriad opportunities available to those studying science and maths.

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I don’t really have any routine, which some people would hate but I rather like. I tend to go to the fusion lab on Mondays (lunchtime yoga!) and any other time they need me. I usually have at least one meeting in London sometime during the week. In term time I may have meetings with local schools or go off lecturing for a couple of weeks. The rest of the time I work from home, juggling my jobs and planning my next mountain expeditions.

I’m so lucky that I get to work in something that excites and inspires me – all of it does! – and I have complete freedom to follow my own interests.  But it’s still hard work, and I’m still up far too late on my computer every night.  So remember that even if you love your work, it’s still work.  It’s never going to be perfect or easy.

I’m sorry this has been such a long story, but I hope I’ve given you some idea that, if anything, your career doesn’t have to be a straight path and you don’t have to know all the answers now Get the information, get the skills and you can shape your life following your priorities.  Main things: do physics 😉 ; do work experience; do what suits you.

My tips:

  1. inform yourself – talk to people, try things out (work experience)
  2. think about *your* priorities – do you want money? challenge? a short commute? to work abroad? stability or flexibility? These are different for everyone.
  3. find mentors – find people you like who can inspire you and support you – like a teacher or a supervisor or a head of department or a Phd student… anyone.  Seek them out, because you may not be given them.
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A trip to open your eyes by Sam Twigg

A trip to open your eyes

 

https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13876278_10205194640984425_5771292155897571745_n.jpg?oh=f987469051b8f4701c0c0d07140769ec&oe=58ADA861From July 24th to August 24th, my family and I took a holiday to Thailand and travelled through into Cambodia and Vietnam. As we were travelling on Tuc-tuc’s, buses, taxis, and Cyclos, into these historically known countries, we knew we had to go see and experience some of these astonishing past events.

When in Cambodia, currently staying in Phnom Penh, we decided to go and visit the Killing fields. Upon arrival in a small village just outside of Phnom Penh, there stood a relatively normal looking entrance in gold, with a sign beaming across saying: ‘CHOEUNG EK GENOCIDAL CENTER’. At first glance, I immediately thought that ‘this doesn’t look so bad, it isn’t as bad as what people have told me before I had arrived’. However, looks can be deceiving.

When stepping through these gates, we were given a device with headphones that had pre-recorded information about the whole site. This had plentiful information about what actually happened and what lead to this event to occur; but what made it even more upsetting is that the device had information directly recorded by those who had witnessed & experienced the killings. Hearing about individual personal lives, what they had experienced within the killing field camp, and sacrifices their own family had made to ensure their safety. It all began to become so overwhelming.

https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13912502_10205194644704518_5547907446758814125_n.jpg?oh=0dca20dbd356c918529292a872db150d&oe=58A00B48The first thing you see when stepping though the entrance, is a large commemorative stupa (temple-like shrine) that holds thousands of skulls and bones. These were the remains of some of whom were victim to the Khmer Rouge. At first I felt sick, mainly because I am as squeamish as you can get, but it was in fact a mixture of anger, sadness, and disgust. I didn’t understand how people can turn on their culture and country so easily and so quickly. This was just the start of an eye-opening day.

Continuing my journey though the Killing Fields, signs and pictures aided me to understand what and how the camp functioned. From the site an old barn stood that housed blind-folded captives in terrible conditions, to fenced off killing pits that were covered in colourful bracelets visitors had placed to show their respect for all adults and children massacred.

Learning that terrible scratchy quality music was played all night, just so soldiers could take captives in the evening and slaughter them into the killing pits. The point of the music was to 1. prevent the captives from hearing the killings and 2. because the music made certain captives go mad and that then gave soldiers an excuse to kill them.

Field after Field, all you could see were domed pits that had been filled with the deceased and slaughtered. At this point, nearly being in tears is a good way to describe my feelings. Speechless.

It wasn’t until, I wondered down the sectioned off path and encountered a large tree. The Killing Tree. This was when I was near to breaking down because the information that I had heard, goes against all of my morals. This tree was used, by executioners to beat and murder Children, mainly new-borns and toddlers. This use of the tree was discovered by a young man after the Khmer Rouge, who stumbled across the tree and fell. Fell onto the remains of the massacred children, then realised the sick usage of the tree.

By the time I was at the end of my journey though the Killing fields, puffy-eyed and red, a song was played. A song that the locals sing every year on one commemorative day, in honour and in respect to those who were affected and lost in this horrific event. This allowed me time to reflect upon my own life, and realise what I have and how lucky I am to have been born and raised the why I have. Questioning why we all take for granted what we have and how we should be more open minded about others. Not just those in our own country, but those in others also.

https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13934976_10205253348972088_4289482768108536854_n.jpg?oh=169dd72270b48fa55e799f4e98b346ba&oe=5864CB6Dhttps://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13906802_10205242506381030_978440474088977023_n.jpg?oh=b6afe15cdf7aa30f18e5bcb89c76d4a4&oe=58A27C25https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13920640_10205253352572178_6811142415050046785_n.jpg?oh=85d8ddd2c8f9ef6dd310aa48d7153392&oe=58689FC6My time abroad wasn’t all depressing; I had in fact visited other genocidal museums and sanctuaries, including temples and the Ho Chi Minh Tunnels in Vietnam. Which all made my experience all the better. Of course I had a few lazy days here and there by the beach looking at the blazing sun reflecting off of clear blue water, improving what little tan I had, but I would’ve regretted my trip if hadn’t visited those monumental and historic places.

 

Consent talk

Last week in Life, Mr. Bond spoke to the Year 12’s about body image and sexual consent.

‘Colleges at Cambridge University have introduced consent talks and workshops after a student survey revealed 77% of respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment’.

We felt it was important as part of the Life sessions to introduce the students to the idea of consent, the legal background and illustrated cases, with all students having the chance to say whether they thought certain situations were consensual or not. In an upbeat but informative session both males and females were told about the situations they may come across when socialising and particularly the issue that may face them starting university.

This session was intended to inform and not to scare our sixth form but to make sure they were aware of the potential situations they may find themselves in and to really emphasise what is ok and not ok.

As Jinan Younis writes in the guardian:

The meaning of sexual consent is often misunderstood in disturbing ways by young people. There’s the idea that if you wear sexy clothing you’re asking for it; that silence during a sex act equals consent; and that women are always falsely accusing men of sexual assault and rape. Surveys have shown that one in two boys and one in three girls think it is OK to sometimes hit a woman or force her to have sex. All of which suggests a new approach is necessary.

Colleges at Cambridge have taken a big step by introducing consent talks and workshops – but this may now be made compulsory in all universities across the UK. The workshops bring home the difficult truth that we are all capable of violating someone else’s consent, while creating a safe space to discuss the meaning of consenting positively and enthusiastically. They are empowering, and absolutely necessary.

We hope that the talk at Alcester Grammar School was helpful to our students.

Three week blues

Remember it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, tired and a bit low at this stage of the transition from year 11 to year 12, particularly if you are also in a brand new school.

Please remember the tips given in the video and Happiness session:

1. Journal once a day about something you are grateful for.

2. Exercise

3. Meditation. (More about this in future weeks)

4, Three Gratitudes per day. (try this for 21 days, it really works)

5. Random Acts of Kindness.

The next few weeks at school can feel daunting as you make new friends, find your way around and tackle a new homework structure.  Remember to stay positive, be kind, ask for help and come and see us in the sixth form office if you have any problems.

Mrs Carr

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Life

Welcome to the Life Programme

Welcome to the Life Programme which runs for Year 12 at Alcester Grammar School every fortnight on a Tuesday morning. Please read the above ‘About’ page to get a full flavour of what the Life programme is all about.
The idea of this blog is to share real life experiences and information that is relevant to your life at Alcester Grammar School but also your dreams and aspirations for the future.

Please sign up to follow the blog, or get email updates when there is a new entry, so that you don’t miss out on really important information. In particular, the articles from professionals in many different fields will give a rare insight into the realities of working in the real world and also how the journey from here to success is very rarely a linear road but twists and turns and takes you in many different directions before you reach your dream career.

It is important to remember to enjoy each part of this journey and that may be when you want to build up strategies for resilience and happiness, which will also feature regularly. Remember being in Sixth form is the beginning of that journey with many decisions to make but also to enjoy the many opportunities that Alcester Grammar School will give you in that two years.

We will also feature articles from students who have had an interesting work experience placement or from ex students who have completed gap years with advice and tips from them. If you know of anybody who would like to contribute, I would be very grateful if you could send me their details, particularly parents who are willing to share their career experiences.

I hope you enjoy the blog and make it your space. Please encourage your parents and friends to follow the blog.

I hope you have a great second week in year 12 and remember the first session where we said, it is completely normal to feel a little overwhelmed at this stage.

Mrs Carr

Today in Life: Tony Lewis

On February 9th 2011, Private Conrad Lewis became the 353rd British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. It was our honour today to welcome Conrad’s father, Mr. Tony Lewis, to Alcester Grammar School to talk to our Year 12 students. Conrad’s sister, Siobhan was in Year 12 at Alcester Grammar School when she heard the terrible news that her brother had been killed in Afghanistan. Just like the rest of her incredible family, she found a resilience, strength and determination to continue with life and succeed in her exams. She was an inspiration to all of us, both teachers and students. Tony described the last moments of Conrad’s life to the students, with honesty and a deep sense of pride.

 Conrad made the best out of the 22 years he lived taking every opportunity and living life to the full. This is the message behind the charity 353 that has been created ‘in memory of Conrad’
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Get busy living. 353 is a state of mind. And a statement. It is standing up. And standing out. It is making a difference. And not being the same. It is keeping your cool. And being cool. It is serious. And it is fun. It is thoughtful. And it is banter.
Tony travelled to Afghanistan to see the country where his 22-year-old son was killed by a Taliban sniper on 9 February, 2011, in order to pay his own tribute to the fallen boy and his comrades of 3 Para. For the father of a son who died in the long war there are questions. What was it all for? What did it achieve? And with the war still going on, has the task that Conrad Lewis and thousands of British soldiers went to achieve been completed? To answer these questions, he showed this video of meeting with the Mayor who he happened to meet whilst walking. The progress that has been seen in Afghanistan doesn’t stop there, as Tony describes a local school he visited on his recent trip. The rooms throughout the school contained tables with girls working diligently on their studies, education is something to be cherished, a rare gift to the few especially women who could not previously leave the house under Taliban rule.  These girls who could speak English thoroughly with little previous education had dreams of being doctors and having careers of their own. Tony, reminded our students about the importance of not taking your education for granted. This is part of the legacy that Conrad and his fellow soldiers have left behind. You can see these amazing young women here:
On the Christmas before he died, Conrad came home on leave. He told the family about a dog he’d adopted, a stray that followed him on the dangerous patrols around Quadrat in Nad Ali, Helmand. The men had named her Peg, after Pegasus, the winged horse that is the symbol of the Parachute Regiment. Before returning to Helmand, Conrad asked his father to contact a charity called Nowzad – set up by a former Royal Marine – which could ship dogs like Peg back to the UK. She would be his pet when he finished his tour of duty. After Conrad was killed, Tony remembered his son’s deep affection for the dog. “Two weeks after he died we got in touch with Nowzad to get Peg back from the most dangerous place on Earth.” Now the Afghan stray is a consoling presence for Tony and Sandi Lewis at their home in Claverdon, Warwickshire.
Lewis family
 We cannot thank Tony enough for coming into school to inspire the sixth formers and to tell us more about Conrad’s life. So many students came to talk to me afterwards about how moved and inspired they were, particularly one of our year 13’s who has just been accepted into the Royal Marines and is looking forward to taking every opportunity to serve his country.
You can find out more here about the 353 charity here. 

A day at the Birmingham Judicial Courts. By Florence Hakes

Court 1

Last Monday I travelled to the Birmingham Judicial Courts to spend the day learning about the ins and outs of the building and the systems and organisations that take place there. A woman from Citizen Advice gave me a tour and helped answer all my questions in the best detail possible. She started with saying that her role in the organisation is voluntary and explained that they provide emotional and practical support for witnesses coming into court and act as a witness protection service. They meet different people with different circumstances everyday through the justice system and alleviate them of any worries or fears they may have. When witnesses enter the court building, they are met by a table of the organisation’s staff and are then guided to a nearby and public room or are taken to a private room where they will stay with and support the witnesses throughout the day and give advice on who everyone is in the courtroom and what the procedure and order of the day will be.

Witnesses may be in court for cases on; domestic abuse, burglary, assault, theft, etc. When the crime has occurred, the witnesses will be contacted by police and asked if they would give a statement. If the police have then got enough efficient evidence, they refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service which decides whether to prosecute the defendant. This is a lengthy process and may take a while to go through. Individuals, defendants and witnesses, are then given a date to be present in court and are asked if they wish for a pre-trial visit around the courtroom and to be explained to of who will be in there on the day of the trial and what will happen.

The most popular question asked by witnesses is; will I have to see the defendant? Witnesses may see the defendant in the trial room, but special measures can take place where witnesses can either give evidence via a TV screen which is shown in court and where they can’t see the defendant but the defendant and everyone else in the courtroom can see them, or a protective screen can go up. This is where the witness is present in the same room as the defendant and everyone else but a screen is put up in the witness box/around the witness chair and the defendant can’t see you and vice versa. These measures take place in order for the court to be given the best evidence possible. If witnesses are ages 17 or under, then they are automatically granted for special measures, yet if you are above this age, then you have to ask for these measures. When it comes to the trial day, Witness/Citizen Advice sit in a private room with the witness if they have special measures. No one else can be there as it may affect the witness(es)’ statement.

The rules in court are that; 14-17 year olds don’t do an affirmation (an oath), but have to promise to tell the truth and if they wish to, can promise on a holy book and up to 14 years old, witnesses are asked if they know the difference between right and wrong, between the truth and a lie. Also, anyone can watch the trial but cannot talk. This occurs in all the courts; Coroner’s Court, Magistrate’s Court and Crown Court, apart from Family Court and Youth Court which are privet. The Youth Court is for offenders under 18 years old and is a private court where no observers or even family can attend as this court is only used for the duration of when the individual is giving evidence. Individuals need permission if they wish for their parent/primary care giver or for an appropriate adult to go into the trial with them as they are still a child and the defendants could get a criminal record and go to a youth offending centre. Magistrates have the power to send them to the centres for up to two years. The trials that take place here aren’t very serious but if the crime is serious, such as murder, then the youth defendant will go to the youth court to begin with and then the case will be transferred to the Crown Court which deals with all severe cases.

Every person, witness or defendant, has to swear on a holy book or an affirmation which doesn’t refer to a specific God. As soon as you enter the courtroom, you take an oath affirming to tell the truth. If an individual cannot read, then the Usher will read out the oath and the individual will repeat it.

court 2

In a typical court room, in a coroner’s or Magistrate’s Court, there will be three Magistrates at the back of the court which has one chairman and two supporters called wingers. These people aren’t legally qualified but are trained to hear all evidence and decide an outcome and if a person should be found guilty or not and will decide on the custodial sentencing which only lasts up to around 6 months/2 years, if they are found guilty. Before the defendant enters the courtroom, the Magistrates are unaware if they have committed a crime before. Then there is a Court Clerk who is legally qualified and sits at a computer taking notes on the trial and to refer back to later on if there is an appeal. The witness stays in the witness room until being brought into the courtroom by an Usher, who wears formal attire, through the back door so they cannot see the defendant or their family, and can only see the Magistrates, Court Clerk, Usher and the Lawyers for accusing and defending, and there may also be a District Judge if the Magistrates aren’t in charge or if there are less Magistrates. As soon as the witness gives evidence, they are then led back to the witness room by the Usher.

Court 3

Defendants are able to ask permission to see their statements if they are panicking etc, and one witness comes in at a time and after all the prosecution witnesses; the defendant sits in the witness box to give evidence. The first Lawyer will question the defendant and the witness/witnesses and then the Lawyer from C.P.S (Citizen Protection Service) will ask the individual more questions, and then hand over the role to the Defendant Lawyer. This questioning is far more challenging as the Lawyer has been told different events by the defendant, with their own version of the event and they will try to discredit the witness’ evidence. The Magistrates or C.P.S may ask more questions and then send in for the witness. If the defendant has their own witness, then they will come into the court one by one as well, and once all the evidence is given, the Magistrates leave the room, talk about the evidence and if they need any assistance or legal advice, then the Court Clerk helps them and they then come to a decision of whether the defendant is guilty or not-guilty and re-enter the court. If the defendant is found guilty, then the Court Clerk will tell the Magistrates if the defendant has any previous convictions and if there is a criminal history, then that has an impact on the sentencing. If the defendant doesn’t have any previous convictions, then they don’t get sentenced on the day and ask the defendant to work with the Probation Service so they can prepare a report on the individual and understand why they have now started committing crimes. Then the defendant is told to come back in three weeks times to be sentenced.

By Florence Hake.

 

 

 

 

 

A Week in the Working World of…………….. Dr. Melanie Windridge

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At high school I liked physics.  I don’t know why, I just did.  It was interesting, thought-provoking, I liked experiments perhaps….  So by GCSE I knew I wanted to study physics further, so I took physics and maths at A-level (including further maths AS), and I also did economics. Now I wish I’d done chemistry too, but back then I didn’t like it.  I would have rather studied French or English lit.  Anyway, I got my A-levels and went to Bristol University where I did an MSci in physics with a year in Europe.  I went to Grenoble, France, for my 3rd year, where I learned a lot about skiing and French but very little physics.  But I also got out of my comfort zone and met many inspiring people so it was a wonderful experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed both Bristol and Grenoble.

I’m a great fan of work experience because I like trying things, so during some university summer holidays I would work in physics labs.  I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory after the 2nd year and Oxford University after the 3rd year for one month each.  RAL was really good but I didn’t enjoy my time in Oxford, just because of the project I was given.  It nearly put me off physics completely.  I think work experience can be really valuable, but you need to be able to assess why things are good or bad and use that information.

Finishing university was the end of one of my ‘steps’ – meaning a big chunk of time when I was stable and knew what I was doing. I had no idea what I should do next; it was a bit intimidating.  I was tired and needed a rest from physics after finals.  And I didn’t think I wanted to do physics anymore.  The Oxford work placement had made me think a physics career wasn’t for me, and I was demoralised and upset because I didn’t quite get a first, so I think I felt a bit rubbish.  I went travelling.  My parents had always encouraged it, so I worked over the summer then took my backpack and left.  In the end I worked and travelled for two years.  I went to south and central America, then Canada, then went back to London to work for 6 months (in a fashion agency – a far cry from Physics! I also modelled for a designer at London Fashion Week and helped at sales. It was fun, but never stimulating.) Then I went on to Australia and Asia.  It sounds like a lot of fun, and it was mostly, though there were things I did then that I’m proud of too – it wasn’t all just messing around.  I learnt Spanish in South America; I walked the Inca Trail in Peru, which started me on a greater journey of trekking, and later climbing; I learnt to dive in Honduras; I improved my skiing (another passion) in Canada; I worked in Sydney, Australia; I lived on a yacht for a month, sailing up the Queensland coast; I trekked for a month in the Himalayas; I took the Trans-Siberian express back to Europe….  That’s not much to do with physics but it shaped me.  Or maybe I was always that way inclined.  I’m quite adventurous, but I like to learn from my experiences, and I think everything through a lot.  And all this time, I was still thinking about physics.  I visited some telescopes and observatories in Australia.  At some point during these years I had heard about fusion, and while I was working in London I had visited Imperial College and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy to talk to people.  By the time I returned from my Australia/Asia trip I knew I wanted to do a PhD in fusion energy.

However, it wasn’t that simple.  It was July and PhD funding is usually given out in March/April, so I had missed it.  I didn’t want to do anything else, so I decided to wait and apply the next year.  In the meantime I did another 6 months work in London in fashion, then managed to get myself a work placement in Lausanne, Switzerland, working on fusion.  This was like heaven – fusion, French and skiing all in one place!  I had the best time and still have some great friends from then.  But I came back to England and did my PhD.  I lived out near Oxford, by Culham Science Centre, and once a week or once every two I would go to Imperial College.  So I was back in physics and I loved working in fusion.  The timescales can be long and frustrating with such big experiments, but I loved working towards something, especially something as dramatic as fusion.  So the PhD was a good decision for me.

Anyway, finishing the PhD was the end of another ‘step’ so I had to reassess again (never an easy process).  In the last 5 years I have been freelance, doing a mixture of physics-related jobs.  This is really unusual for a physicist, so you shouldn’t take me as the best example.  You could go on to be an academic, or work in industry, or do something entirely different like finance or patent law or documentary making.  Physics gives you lots of options.  I have been lecturing on fusion and doing other communication work, including TV.  I wrote a book, and will write more. I’m currently writing a book on the Northern Lights, and blending some of the things I love – like science and adventure – to inspire people to see the science in the beauty around them and to appreciate it. Because science is an exploration and that’s wonderful.  I worked for two years for an invention company, where I actually did invent things for big clients (it’s really hard…).  I’m now working with a fusion start-up company that is trying to get to fusion faster by designing smaller, cheaper machines.  This is very exciting.  I work in physics education too, as a consultant for the Ogden Trust, and I’m an ambassador for the Your Life campaign, which aims to show the myriad opportunities available to those studying science and maths.

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I don’t really have any routine, which some people would hate but I rather like. I tend to go to the fusion lab on Mondays (lunchtime yoga!) and any other time they need me. I usually have at least one meeting in London sometime during the week. In term time I may have meetings with local schools or go off lecturing for a couple of weeks. The rest of the time I work from home, juggling my jobs and planning my next mountain expeditions.

I’m so lucky that I get to work in something that excites and inspires me – all of it does! – and I have complete freedom to follow my own interests.  But it’s still hard work, and I’m still up far too late on my computer every night.  So remember that even if you love your work, it’s still work.  It’s never going to be perfect or easy.

I’m sorry this has been such a long story, but I hope I’ve given you some idea that, if anything, your career doesn’t have to be a straight path and you don’t have to know all the answers now Get the information, get the skills and you can shape your life following your priorities.  Main things: do physics 😉 ; do work experience; do what suits you.

My tips:

  1. inform yourself – talk to people, try things out (work experience)
  2. think about *your* priorities – do you want money? challenge? a short commute? to work abroad? stability or flexibility? These are different for everyone.
  3. find mentors – find people you like who can inspire you and support you – like a teacher or a supervisor or a head of department or a phd student… anyone.  Seek them out, because you may not be given them.

A week in the working world of…………….Angela Walsh

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A week in the working world of Angela Walsh BVMS MRCVS equine veterinarian (that’s horse vet to you!)

Angela

I grew up on the Isle of Arran in Scotland and used to spend all weekend at the local riding stables where I would work all day to be able to ride in exchange, the stables also had a sheep farm so the vet popped in quite often. I was good at science at school and liked being outside so a job where you were in the country and doing something medical appealed to me. My school gave me little encouragement as they knew the entry requirements were really high and even for those with the grades there were only 120 places a year in Scotland for 2000 applicants. I am pretty determined and to be fair there wasn’t much else to do on a Scottish Island over the winter so I studied very hard and ended up getting the required grades to go to my first choice university at 16 (which looking back is pretty strange!).

The thing that swung it and I think possibly heavily influences many universities’ choice of applicant was having done lots of practical experience; I had helped for a month with lambing locally as well as working with the local vet ; talking him to death while he drove round the island at breakneck speed … I asked him while sitting in the front of his pick-up with a labrador on my lap and one between my legs (seriously he insisted they must come every day and I had to arrange myself around them!) ‘don’t you worry about crashing?’ and he said ‘no, because I know I won’t meet me coming in the other direction’ .

Nowadays I think 17 is the youngest they take students but in 1986 they took 2 of us at 16 and we were slightly more mature than some of the 19 year old boys, we stayed in ’halls of residence’ and spent the first 2 years mostly at the main university campus and the last three at the veterinary school 4 miles away, every summer was spent ‘seeing practice’ so there was little time for much else.

Glasgow University was massive (10,000 students) and very traditional, I loved every moment but not everyone did …we lost 5 out of 65 students by the end of the first year…one on the first day when we had an anatomy lesson with dead dog disection…I think they did this on purpose to get rid of people early. One chap in my class proved that being tenacious helps…he didn’t get the required grades but rang the admissions secretary daily and got quite friendly with her …he kept asking if anyone had dropped out yet and his patience paid off because three weeks into term they said ”OK if you can get here for Monday you’ve got a place !” …he went on to be the class president and a great vet (he is actually in Birmimgham now .)

University was a bit of a shock after school, instead of being top(ish) of the class I was midway down with a lot of really brainy people so that took a bit of getting used to, and shock, horror, people failed exams (instead of getting straight As ) and even got thrown out …we continued to lose 2-3 people each year due to not getting high enough marks. The finals were terrifying; they were all practical and oral and I even had to examine a camel ! I worked 17 hours a day for 8 weeks to study everything that I thought I needed to know ; the volume that needs to be learned is enormous. But university itself was wonderful , my class were the bunch of wittiest, funniest people I had ever spent time with (well apart from a few nerds!)

I left after 5 years that were up to then the best in my life and applied for 12 jobs all over the UK, eventually I decided on one in Staffordshire and duly set off to start in August after graduation. The jobs all came with a car and house which was the typical vet package and my starting salary was what I believed to be a massive £12,000 a year ; (after living on £3000 a year for 5 years as a student!)

My first job was what we call mixed…ie I did small animal consulting and surgery in the morning followed by a round of farm call (in my polo!)in the afternoon. I got loads of experience and was soon doing cow caesareans, calvings, bitch speys and removing the odd spleen and pinning broken legs but saw very few horses.

After a year or so I decided to leave for the heady heights of Solihull where another mixed job with more horses and a salary of £17,000 awaited ! By now I was 22 , by 23 I had bought my first house in Knowle which was a village near Solihull, bought a puppy to accompany me on my rounds and I was pretty happy with life.

Being on call at night is pretty strange in your early twenties; I remember driving past one of the pubs in Knowle which was spilling out onto the pavement with revellers at midnight, people I knew were dressed in summer gear and having a great time as I watched on in my waterproof trousers and wellies, up to my elbows in who knows what and very smelly having just been to a very difficult calving…..

After 7 years as an assistant I met another vet at a conference who worked in the Cotswolds and we decided to set up an equine only clinic together; this was in Ullenhall near Henley in Arden.

We have built the clinic over the last 16 years to be a 7 vet equine only purpose built facility that accepts referrals from neighbouring practices and provides a good service for the horse owners of Warwickshire and Worcestershire (www.cornerhousevets.com).

Running your own business is tough at times but very rewarding and hopefully will be an investment for the future. You have to have a pretty relaxed attitude to risk; there’s always a chance you won’t be paid at the end of the month and you never really switch off completely.

My average week now is about 30hrs a week since I have had children (the boys don’t need me as much now but it’s a good excuse !)

I do about half management and half clinical work, so I might be driving round the countryside seeing horses on a Monday and doing staff appraisals on a Tuesday. I am enrolled on a masters at the moment that I’m 5/6 of the way through…It included one business module which I found really helpful as the veterinary world is getting very very competitive and a lot of my time is now spent doing marketing and business planning.

Overall I would say that the choice of career for me was a good one, there has never been a day where I have come home and said ‘I hate work’ but if I was working for someone else at this point there is a chance that I wouldn’t be as satisfied. The major pros and cons come from being self-employed ….

.pros ; I take all the school holidays off unless there’s a dire emergency, I can always be the parent who can do a school run or take a day off easily.

Cons; I don’t sleep well as there’s always so much going on that I find it hard to switch off, if anyone complains then I am the one that has to sort it out ( I even went on a course on how to do that ); ie the buck stops here !

I would say to anyone who wants to be a vet that says ‘ it’s because I love animals’ that it’s great if you enjoy spending time with animals but really the vast majority of the time is about communicating with people and most of my enjoyment is from the relationships with clients that are formed over the years so I would say …if you are not squeamish , are not a clock watcher, are good at science and are great with people ( and animals secondly!) it could be the job for you , there are so many of my friends that are not in practice now but do a variety of vet related jobs from Ministry of Agriculture Vet, to overseeing poultry production , to developing new vaccines or even teaching at university …..the world is your oyster …good luck !