Every year, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) employs around 45 sandwich students, based at three sites across the UK. The Sandwich Student Scheme offers undergraduates the chance to take a year out from their respective degree courses in order to use and develop the skills they've acquired at university within a working environment.
As a placement student working in Science Communication, I am aware of the breadth of opportunities available to students employed by STFC, one of Europe's largest multidisciplinary research organisations. By virtue of the nature of my job, I get to meet a wide range of scientists and engineers from different backgrounds and learn about the exciting, cutting-edge research they are undertaking within their respective departments. It is through this contact that I have been able to discover the valuable contribution made by fellow students to working life at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. In this feature, I sit down with six members of the 2017/2018 ISIS sandwich student intake to discuss their roles within the organisation and share what they hope to gain by the end of their placement.
- Eilidh Southren is studying for a degree in Computer Science from Robert Gordon University and is working as a Software Developer in Instrument Controls.
- Thomas Astles is based in the Detector Group of the ISIS Instruments Division as he completes his industrial placement year as part of his degree in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Bath.
- Elizabeth Glazer is a biologist from Bournemouth University and is working within the ISIS Impact Team in Public Engagement.
- Lea Obermueller is working on the ChipIR instrument, as she completes her industrial placement for her degree in Integrated Engineering from Cardiff University.
- Gino Cassella, a physicist from the University of Bath, is working in the Polarised Neutrons and Excitations group.
- Princess Okoro is working within the Facilities IT Team as part of her degree in Computer Security and Forensics from the University of Greenwich.
- Claire Wilde, a chemist from the University of Bradford is working in the muon group developing online learning tools.
“So - first things first - what do you do in your job at ISIS?"
GINO: I am working on the LET instrument at ISIS, where we are currently developing the tools required to perform polarisation analysis experiments. My role consists of aiding in the characterisation of hyper-polarised helium 3 spin filters and writing data reduction scripts that correct for the finite inefficiencies of the polarising elements on our instrument.
CLAIRE - I make online learning tools and devices that support a course on muon spectroscopy run by ISIS.
EILIDH - The ISIS instruments are operated by scientists via software interfaces; we design, create and maintain those interfaces. My main task this year involves updating the software used to control the HIFI instrument's cryomagnet, so that it can survive future hardware upgrades. We also review each other's code in the office, a great way to get feedback on the work you do. I've done some outreach in becoming a STEM ambassador and helping out at the STFC-hosted Summer Coding Camp.
ELIZABETH - My job is to promote the research that is done at ISIS through a range of events, activities and articles.
LEA - Still being in the early stages of my placement, I spend most of my time expanding my knowledge and understanding of radiation its detection, as well as practising the use of various software packages, which aid data analysis. Soon, I will continue the work of the previous placement student, investigating the intensity and profile of the neutron beam in the ChipIR blockhouse.
PRINCESS - I work with the facilities IT team which supports and manage IT queries within ISIS, CLF and eScience. On a day-to-day basis, I perform various system administration duties such as managing users, groups and policy, etc., and help to resolve general IT queries. I have also been involved in the deployment of new systems. At the moment, I am currently being introduced to windows server and scripting with PowerShell.
THOMAS - I work on muon detectors, in particular I am seeking to improve the rate capability of the detectors whilst maintaining the quality of the results, for example minimising electrical noise. Day- to-day I perform a variety of tasks from setting up experiments to writing programs to analyse the results. Currently I am comparing signal quality from different preamplifiers.
| Lea Obermueller standing on the bridge to Target Station 2. Credit: STFC.|
“What is the most exciting part of your job?"
ELIZABETH – Personally, I like the variety. Some days I will be helping run an event, whilst others are spent writing articles in my office.
EILIDH - The code I write will be used to control some very big, very cool instruments. I really enjoy meeting the wide variety of scientists and researchers who use them and creating software that makes their job easier.
PRINCESS - I like that every day comes with different challenges. For example, I am either helping out a user with an IT query, deploying a new system, setting up administrative privileges for users, cleaning malware infected PC via Sophos enterprise console, or researching a specific IT issue. I also find it fascinating to work with high tech scientific computers.
LEA – It is really cool that I am trusted to carry out important work independently and am treated as a valuable member of the team and not just “like a student". Also, arriving at the Harwell Campus every morning knowing how much important research is being carried out here every day and knowing that I am a part of that, is really motivating and inspiring.
|Thomas Astles detecting cosmic muons using a GEM (Gas Electron Multiplier) detector. Credit: STFC.|
“What made you decide to apply for a placement at ISIS/STFC?"
GINO - At my university, there is a strong tradition of encouraging STEM students to take a placement year for the wealth of experience it can bring, and the benefits to employability. Personally, I decided to apply for a placement year with the STFC in particular as I wanted to get a taste for what it is like to work as a scientist in a professional environment.
CLAIRE - I'm really interested in research and STFC is a renowned research facility. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity and potentially open doors in the future.
EILIDH - It sounded like an excellent environment to work and learn in. The idea of working for a research group was much more appealing than working for a business.
ELIZABETH - I wanted to do a placement because having a year of experience makes me much more employable after graduation as well as giving me time to see what parts of this job I like the most. STFC (especially ISIS) does a lot of important research and it is great to be able to see exactly what it does and be able to share it with others.
|Eilidh Southren coding a user interface for part of an ISIS instrument which will allow scientists to use it. Credit: STFC.|
“What do you hope to gain from your placement here?"
PRINCESS - By the end of this placement, I hope to have worked on various projects that will help to improve IT infrastructure. I also aim to become competent in scripting languages such as PowerShell and Bash, whilst improving my knowledge and experience of IT security.
THOMAS - I aspire to gain experience within working physics and to give back in what I learn. I particularly like the idea of a detector I have developed being used in the beamline to be a real part of the overall process.
GINO - I hope to develop important research skills here that will aid me in the rest of my scientific career. Particularly, learning to work effectively as part of a larger group – a skill for which the opportunity to develop is rare at university. Additionally I hope I will learn some interesting Physics, and get the chance to have my name on some published material.
EILIDH - The experience of working in a professional coding team; there's a lot more to writing software than just sitting at your keyboard. There's so much you can't fully learn in university, particularly in regards to project management and working on large code bases.
ELIZABETH - I'm hoping that this year will give me more of an idea of what I want to do after graduation as well as broadening my knowledge for my final year of university.
|Gino Cassella stood next to the FLYNN Helium 3 spin filter filling station). Credit: STFC.|
“Finally – looking towards the future- do you have any specific career aspirations?"
EILIDH - I hope to be building software or apps in any form! Ideally I'd like to be working freelance or remotely. Clocking into work from a warmer climate sounds pretty perfect too!
LEA - Assuming this year goes well and my interest in physics research stays as strong as it is now, after my bachelor in engineering, I would like to pursue a masters in physics, maybe followed by a PhD.
PRINCESS - I hope to work as an IT security and forensics analyst in the near future.
We look forward to welcoming all of our 2017/18 placement students to the ISIS team and wish them every success during their year working here.
Further information about the variety of opportunities that STFC offers undergraduate students can be found by following this link.
To learn more about the innovating research undertaken at ISIS, please visit ISIS News.