As a Science and Communication sandwich student, it's been fulfilling getting to know people from different departments and work with them. Working from home has especially made it challenging for all of us new starters, as it's harder meeting people virtually. Getting a chance to listen and write about the experiences that other students have been through has been very inspiring. This aim with this feature is to instill an insight into what it's like being a sandwich student for the ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility at STFC.
- George Longmore is studying Biochemistry at the University of Reading and currently taking up a Bioengineering role in ISIS.
- Jasmine Lawton is in her 4th year of her Integrated master's in chemistry at York and is working on developing catalysts for deuteration
- Arianna Wintle is part of Neutron Detector Development team and is a Physics MSci student currently going into her 3rd year University of Bristol.
- Toluwalase Agoro is studying Engineering Physics at Aberystwyth University and is working on elemental analysis using muons.
“What do you do in your job?"
GEORGE: I'm doing a degree in biology and my line manager is a physicist, so my main task is to figure out how I can use my biology knowledge on her instrument to come up with a new research area.
JASMINE: My role involves synthesizing catalysts and looking at how they work for the deuteration of organic molecules.
ARIANNA: I'm helping to developing a detector for ESS, which is another pulsed neutron source currently being developed. I'm also helping with a neutron imaging detector, which will also use the energy dependent features of materials to help build up an image. Based on that I'm learning how to rebuild stuff from tomographic images.
TOLU When a muon goes into a sample it gives off an x-ray spectra depending on the elements in the material. I'm working on detecting those materials through a non-invasive technique involving muons.
“What is the most exciting part of your job?"
GEORGE: At university, we go through most of the education just learning about different research. Working at the facility allows us to see how that research is applied to products and samples, which is the most exciting part of my job.
JASMINE: I like how independent it is. I've been given a project title, but I'm allowed to take it in any direction I like. It allows me to expand my scope of knowledge as I'm taking what I've already learnt in my degree and applying it to the project.
ARIANNA: I love that I get to talk to experts that are working on scientific papers and directly learn from them. I'm also learning about a really broad range of topics that I wouldn't otherwise know about. It's fascinating learning about the different facilities and seeing how they fit into the bigger picture.
TOLU I like the fact that there is a wide range of things to do. Earlier this week I was working on software, right now I'm working on planning out experiments that I have to run-through with my line manager and I also did some coding as well to run some calculation. It's very fulfilling to me that I get to develop and use such an array of skills.
“What do you find most challenging about the job?"
GEORGE: I have a background in biochemistry, so I find it difficult to learn some of the theory behind the instruments by myself, since it's mostly physics.
JASMINE: My line managers are more experienced in organic chemistry, whereas my project is mainly inorganic chemistry. So, a lot of the work I'm doing is based on my initiative and independent research to find out which catalysts have potential and reasons why they do/ do not work.
ARIANNA I feel like there's a lot of content that I need to learn. I enjoy lab work, but since we're all working remotely a lot of the work, I have to read a lot of complicated papers. It's challenging but is also helping me develop as a scientist.
TOLU: The fact that I'm given a problem to solve, which usually doesn't have a straightforward solution, where I must go through several processes to find the answer. It's both challenging and rewarding.
“What attracted you to apply to STFC/ISIS?"
GEORGE: I think the scale of it! It's enormous and it's unique in the UK. When I asked someone about the facility, they told me about the work and history of the Harwell campus, it made me quite excited to potentially be a part of the meaningful work that gets done here.
JASMINE: A lot of my lecturers at university would talk about the facility, and since I've grown up around Harwell, I already had an idea that it was a unique place to work and a site which is at the forefront of research. Like George mentioned, it was the fact that it was such a large-scale facility, so also the fact that users would travel from all across the UK even Europe to use equipment drew me towards it.
ARIANNA The chance to work on a project that's very scientific and closer to industry-related roles. Plus, working at STFC would have given me a chance to work on a research project been, and provided me with a huge scope of what I can learn.
TOLU: I was interested in the scientific world and research. After I looked up what type of research they do, it got me interested in what research in the real world looks like, so I decided to apply.
“What do you hope to gain from the placement?"
GEORGE: Since I'm committed to proposing a new research area to work on with my line manager, I'm hoping to get my name on a scientific paper because it would be beneficial for any future roles.
JASMINE: I want to develop my skillset. The people in my group have a variety of roles, so tailoring my knowledge based off that and being able to work independently where necessary and also in a group are skills which will be very beneficial later in my career.
ARIANNA: I wanted to gain an insight into what I was going to after University and I feel like two months into the roles I'm certain I want to get a Ph.D. To me that was quite a revelation, since I didn't know that was something I'd be interested in. Also, I wanted a chance to work on a bigger research project than at university.
TOLU: I hope to improve time management, presentation skills, and communication skills.
Has your attitude towards work changed since you started?
GEORGE: It's different from how it would have been on-site since now we have to motivate ourselves to put in the hours and get stuff done. I've noticed a shift in my thinking as I push myself to get more organized and get work done in the appropriate work hours.
JASMINE: Since starting my placement if I read something and think it has potential, I'll go on to read a paper and learn how and why it works. I guess starting work has made me much more inquisitive since I take the time to explore new concepts and expand my knowledge in my area of research.
ARIANNA: I've become a lot more kind of goal-oriented now and self-reflective. If I'm doing work and I realize I need to improve my skills in something, I will make an active effort, especially since I'm working from home, to foster those skills where I think I need development.
TOLU: In university, if I didn't complete my work, I would be the only one negatively impacted by. Conversely, if I don't complete my work here, I'm slowing down the entire team. I think sticking to that mentality has made me more responsible and ensures I get my work done in the allotted time.
At the moment, do you have any specific career aspirations?
GEORGE: My manager emphasized that if I want to do research it would be best if I pursue a Ph.D. Before I wasn't too sure, but now I'm potentially thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in Oncology.
JASMINE: I wanted to use this year to decide whether I wanted a job in research or to do a Ph.D. after I graduate from starting my placement. Since starting my placement I am now considering the Ph.D. route, which is not something I was initially interested in.
ARIANNA Similar to the others I struggled with making a decision. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go down an academic research route or maybe an industry research group. Although I've been working remotely I still kind of got the feeling of that industry is somewhere I'd want to work, especially here at ISIS since there's such a positive environment. Now I know for certain that I want to do a Ph.D. joint with industry.
TOLU: I'm certain I want to go into research, but I haven't decided which area yet. Right now, I'm more focused on broadening my skill set.
“What's something you wish you knew before you came to work at STFC?"
GEORGE: Nothing has ever caught me off guard working at STFC because the environment is very supportive. I think maybe I would have told myself to be a lot more relaxed since the people around me are very friendly.
JASMINE: I think how inclusive it is. There are all sorts of webinars and activities like RecSoc on campus, so there's a wide range to take part in and you can learn a lot!
ARIANNA: I think maybe coming to terms with the fact that you're going have bad days where you're not as motivated and it is going to be a bit more of a struggle, but the good days do kind of balance out. Just to have faith because motivation does click in and some days it will be better than others. Also, if you're struggling tell someone, and they will definitely try to help you or direct you towards someone who can.
TOLU: I think if I applied to the company knowing everything that I do right now I would have told myself to be more relaxed, especially when it comes to the interview stage.
We look forward to the work that our sandwich students will achieve in their time here and we wish them well in all they do.
Further information about the variety of opportunities that STFC offers undergraduate students can be found by following this link.