Balgreen Primary School;
Craighmount Secondary School;
Both in the west of Edinburgh, near the zoo.
1. Standard Grades (the version of GCSEs that you got in Scotland in the 1990s) in English, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, German – maybe there were some more but I’ve forgotten them all now.
2. Highers (done one year after GCSEs) in Maths, English, Chemistry, Biology, Music
3. CSYS (Certificate of Sixth-Year studies – a Scottish version of A-levels from the 1990s) in Maths and Chemistry
I didn’t take Physics at school at all!
4. Masters degree (MPhys) in Physics from the University of Oxford.
5. DPhil (the Oxford version of a PhD) in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford; although my supervisor moved so I did most of the work in Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island, NY, USA.
Postdoctoral positions (fixed-term research positions, typically for about 3 years each) in:
1. ICTP (International Center for Theoretical Physics) in Trieste, Italy;
2. Department of Physics in the University of Birmingham;
3. Institute for the theory of condensed matter physics in Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Lecturer in physics in the School of Physical Sciences at the University of Kent.
Lecturer in Physics doesn’t just mean lecturing – typically, the position is half lecturing and teaching of undergraduate students, half research, and half admin related stuff, keeping the department running.
And yes, I am aware that three halves is more than a whole 🙂
School of Physical Sciences; University of Kent
Favourite thing to do in my job: Maths!
About Me: I am a theoretical physicist and I play the piano. I'm also good at cooking poached eggs, according to my three year old daughter.
I grew up in Scotland but now live in Canterbury in the south of England which is were the university of Kent has its main campus. At home, I have a dog, two cats, a three year old daughter, and two pianos. It can be quite lively here! I’ve played the piano as long as I can remember, and sometimes give concerts. And I really like maths and physics! Its so cool having a job that lets me do maths all day.
My Work: I'm a theoretical condensed matter physicist. I work on quantum wires, topological insulators, and other fancy states of matter likes supersolids. What do any of these words mean? Ask me to find out!
I’m a theoretical physicist. That means I like to think a lot, but nobody lets me anywhere near their experiments. Mostly, a theoretical physicist does maths all day, finding equations that describe our universe. There is a great by Arthur Eddington, who is best known for astronomy at the beginning of the 20th century, but worked in many other aspects of physics as well. He said “We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about ‘and’.” This is what I do – I want to understand the word ‘and’. Quantum mechanics as we teach it to students tells us how a single particle like an electron behaves. But we know when we have lots of them together, their collective motion may be described by quite different equations. For example, how would you understand pressure waves in air (i.e. speaking) if all you knew were Newton’s laws of motion for each air molecule? This new behaviour (sometimes complex, sometimes simple) is known as emergent, as it emerges from different laws applied to many particles interacting together.
This is what I do – I start from the fundamental laws (quantum mechanics) for each electron and try to work out what will happen when you have lots of them together. Mostly, I’m interested in electronic properties – why do some materials conduct and some don’t; and how can we make better (and smaller) conducting wires which have less power dissipation. But I also like looking at other emergent properties of materials and seeing how each different property can come about from the same underlying laws of the electrons – properties such as magnetism, or even more exotic things like supersolids.
My Typical Day: I'm a theoretical physicist, so mostly I think about stuff. Sometimes, I write some of it down. If only :) This is indeed part of my day, but life as an academic typically involve much more than research. Preparing lectures, giving lectures, answering students questions, getting curious about subtle points of a student question and spending the next few hours pondering it and looking up more about the subject...
My job title is `lecturer in physics’ This is the typical name for the lowest academic post and is not about just lecturing. Typically, the job ladder of an academic in the UK goes: lecturer -> senior lecturer -> reader -> professor. Despite the names, these jobs are pretty much all the same, the only thing that differs is the level of seniority. Some places in the UK have started using terminology from the US (adjunct professor, associate professor, full professor), although I’m not sure that is any clearer to most people.
All academic positions (lecturer, reader, professor) tend to involve three components – teaching, research and administration. The exact balance differs from institution to institution as well as individual circumstances of each person, but in most cases every academic has all three roles.
The balance however does certainly vary throughout the year. During term-time, there is much more focus on teaching. That is not to say research stops – but there is less time for it when you are actively involved in delivering several modules to hundreds of students. At certain key points, such as the period at the beginning and end of terms, there is often a bit more administration to do, to keep the department running. And summer is traditionally the time when academics get to concentrate on research – attending conferences to present their work and collaborate with other academics around the world.
So there really is no typical day in academia – every day is different. One day, I might have 100 homework scripts to mark. Another day, I might be attending a symposium listening to visitors to the department talk about their most recent research, and telling them about mine. And on other days, I might actually be able to sit back and think about my own research for an extended period of time, and do some calculations of my own.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Geeky, friendly, pedantic.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My parents mostly
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I did think about becoming a pianist. Or a mountain climber.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Rachmaninov (not really known for his singing though...)
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Hard to pick a single thing, but if I must: skydiving
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
A house like the tardis (mostly the 'bigger on the inside' thing, although time travel would be cool too); an extra few hours in the day so I can do all of the things I want to do; oh, and that world peace thing would be nice :)
Tell us a joke.
The bottom quark always makes me snigger (one of the reasons why I could never be a particle physicst!)