What do you do at ISIS?
I am responsible for the smooth operation of the ion source. This is the component right at the very start of the ISIS accelerator where the particle beam starts from. It's a temperamental little thing which only lasts a few weeks before needing replacing, so it needs constant care and attention. I am also in charge of the research and development programme in and around the ion source. I plan experiments and upgrades, then manage projects to guarantee success.
What route did you take to get to where you are now?
I actually studied astrophysics at university, so know all about stars, planets, black holes and galaxies. After my undergraduate degree, I decided to join the STFC's graduate scheme, rather than stay on at university to complete a PhD. The graduate scheme is basically a two-year probationary period, getting on-the-job training to develop into a fully-functioning member of staff. I started off in the ion source section as a graduate and have been here ever since, over 12 years later! I have had a few promotions and am now pleased to be in charge of some fairly major projects, with fingers in many pies in the world of particle accelerators.
What key attributes do you need for your job?
I think one needs to strike a good balance between imagination and caution. It's really exciting being able to conjure up new ideas. However it's also important to be able to see the big picture, thinking through all the consequences of those proposals. Working on a huge machine with thousands of people depending on its safe, reliable operation, it's crucial to think rationally through all the options, rather than getting carried away with the latest little widget.
What do you like most about your job?
I love being part of a big machine and having real, tangible input on its operation and development. It is quite stressful knowing that all eyes are on you if something goes wrong and you need to fix it immediately. On the other hand, it's amazing knowing that your imagination, design and project-management has led to a successful upgrade, benefitting the machine and everyone who uses it.
What has been your greatest achievement in your role so far?
My job is quite hands-on, so I've put together a fair number of experimental areas. One of them was for my PhD, which meant I had to do most of the work myself. However I also had to learn the art of delegation and leadership: getting other people to do the work I'm not authorised to do, such as electrical wiring and gas plumbing. As well as the final product working brilliantly – and continuing to be a valuable tool with international visitors using it regularly – the experience really gave me a leg-up in the world of project management, which is paying dividends now as I feel confident managing really large, important upgrade projects.