International Women's Day!

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It's International Women's Day!

Being a female in physics; an area of science which has long been dominated by men, I wanted to introduce some of the amazing women I've met and hopefully encourage others that physics isn't just a male subject!


To do so, I have interviewed some of the girls that I've been studying physics alongside, so I hope you enjoy seeing what it's like to be a female physicist!



Caitlin Green

1. What made you want to study physics?
Caitlin on her graduation day
I always loved learning about space when I was younger, but it wasn’t until GCSEs that I started really getting into maths and science. I was determined to study maths at uni, but then I realised I could do a physics degree and study space at the same time! 
The idea of studying the universe really appealed to me.

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
I think I’ve learnt how to see the world in a completely different way. It’s amazing to be able to look at the world around you and understand it on a whole different level. Everyday things like the weather, aeroplanes, household appliances; they all become so much more interesting when you know how they work!

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do?
I graduated in 2019, and now I’m training to be a meteorologist at the Met Office in Exeter. I love my job - it’s really interesting taking everything I’ve learnt about planets billions of miles away and applying it to the weather we see around us every day. It’s something I’d never considered doing whilst I was at uni, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
Honestly for me it was the workload and the difficulty of the work. There are so many different areas of physics and some of the stuff we learn is really challenging, so it took me a long time to accept that no one is going to be good at everything. 
Struggling with some areas of physics doesn’t make you a bad physicist! 

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
I think on the whole physics is getting a lot better at changing attitudes towards women in science, especially at  Manchester. However there is one instance that I still remember - in a lab interview we had an older male professor interviewing us, and we would answer his questions only for him to say “no, actually it’s [slightly reworded version of what we just said]”. It was infuriating and it made us question our knowledge even though we knew we were correct.

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
I think it’s important to have a good support network in place. Most other women in physics will recognise the challenges you may be facing, so having a good group of female friends and role models really helps! I was lucky enough to have an amazing tutor and some friends in older years to seek advice from, and they’ve been instrumental to helping me get where I am today. And it sounds super cheesy, but the most important thing is to believe in and stand up for yourself.


Alice Matthews

1. What made you want to study physics?
Alice at the IRAM 30m telescope!
I have always thought about ‘how’ things work on a deeper level. I think everyone has. But I think most people don’t realise that it is ‘physics’ helps explain these phenomena from the macroscopic mechanical level, which we can see and measure directly, to the infinitesimally small quantum level, which we have to use maths and probabilistic methods to explain -  and I wanted to know all of it!
For me, I was late to the game. I know I always thought about things and wanted to know how they worked in a more complex way, and I cared about space and technology, and thought about being an engineer, but I never really cared about ‘physics’ - they don’t really sell it very well at school - and that's why blogs like this one are great!
I used to want to be a vet. I loved animals and biology. It was actually when I saw Professor Brian Cox on TV, that I was inspired to think about bigger things such as the universe and our origin - not from a biological level, but from the big bang!

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
I was lucky enough to do an internship in France at IPAG. The work I did during this project was also published, and this was honestly my best achievement!
I was so gutted when I failed my third year, but this made me realise that being a physicist isn't about learning how to pass exams or learn answers off by heart. It takes discipline and perseverance to really put your heart and soul into a project, to work really hard but to also believe in yourself and stay positive! Anyone can be a physicist and the hard work will pay off!  You just need to be willing to work hard!
On top of this, I was also given the amazing opportunity to visit the IRAM 30m telescope where I learned to control the telescope, and take spectroscopic data from the Tarus molecular cloud - this has made me want to pursue my journey as a physicist regardless of my grades!
I was also super proud of my masters project working on the ATLAS detector - a dream of mine since I found out what it was.

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do? 
At the moment I’m working for an educational tech company called Fire Tech (highly recommend trying to work for them during your degree - great money and also beats waitressing!). I started off as a tutor, and am currently doing an internship with them. I am working as a data analyst and junior developer with the tech and marketing teams.
Although this is really fun, I do miss physics and so I plan to pick up some more experience in astronomy, particle physics, and climate physics to help me choose what avenue of research I want to go down so that in the future (fingers crossed) I can continue my career path in physics and complete a PhD.

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
Physics is really good at making you feel stupid - this sounds ridiculous but its true. The hardest thing about studying physics is getting used to failing, feeling uncomfortable, wanting to give up, feeling like you can’t do it and that it’s too hard for you - I genuinely believed only the ‘clever’ kids could do it throughout 80% of my degree.
Having that ability to carry on despite all those negative thoughts, emotions and feelings, and actually believing in yourself, (even after failing) is something that can be learnt, and for me, physics, maths and technology didn’t come naturally, and took me 5 years to believe in myself and realise that if you work hard and stay positive, you can get to where you want to be.

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
No. This is just a myth. Well.. kind of but not really (or that I don’t want to believe it). At school a lot of the boys used to make comments about me being stupid (I was one of 2 girls in my class studying physics) however, I think that was a reflection on them more than me - yes I was bottom of my class as wasn’t allowed to do further maths (ha - look at me now) but in the end I scored better results than all of the boys so who cares. 

The only comment I’ve ever had (which was also a reflection of that person rather than on me) was about my body (I know - outrageous) and that was at a conference during an internship - it was more embarrassing for him and the company (which I am no longer interested in working for obviously) and I must admit I was a little shocked, and the fact he did it right in front of my boss (who was also a woman) says a lot about him. We did report him. I’m not a snitch, but he was representing the company and said these comments in front of potential investors, which really didn't sit well with me both personally and professionally so I thought it was in the best interest of the company to report him (the saaaaasssssss). I’m pretty sure he got away with it, but us girls (and boys) have got to stick up for ourselves when people are out of line (sexism, racism, homophobia - anything!)

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
Firstly, you go girl! 
Secondly, believe in yourself. Eat well (lots of greens and often). Exercise (even if its just a walk) but go outside (and often).
Talk to your girlfriends and family about it. I was silent for so long about how much I was struggling, but as soon as I voiced it, everything became clearer and I was more aware of what was a real issue (studying, eating enough, balancing work and all things adulting (money omg)) and in my head (anxiety, negative thoughts which lead to spiralling of other issues).
Don't be afraid to talk up and be honest with yourself. You will come to the realisation that almost everyone is going through the same thing (even from those mad smart kids who seem to be perfect - we all have shit to deal with) and talking about it not only helps us deal with it and share solutions, but also reassures you that you're not alone in this.
It is hard, its bloody difficult - you're not baking cookies, you're doing a physics degree and its ok to struggle and feel stupid! But do not give up!
Keep going and be the boss girl you would like to have seen when you were younger!


Mary Slipper

1. What made you want to study physics?
Mary at CERN !
I started off wanting to study medicine! I think most girls who are good at science do. When I started my A-Levels I realised I didn’t really enjoy biology and found a real interest in nuclear and particle physics. It took me by surprise how interesting and exciting it was! When I decided I didn’t want to do medicine anymore it was clear to me that I would enjoy doing physics more than anything else.

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
Some of the best things I’ve done have been through outreach work! I love going to schools and teaching children about how cool physics is. 
I have been to the Bluedot festival to share my knowledge with people for the last two years and that has been so fun and rewarding!

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do?
I am hoping to do a PhD in particle physics, working at CERN would be a dream come true.

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
Physics is very challenging. It can be quite frustrating when things don’t work the way you thought they did, but it can be so rewarding when you finally have that ‘lightbulb’ moment.

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
I have actually been quite lucky to be surrounded by so many supportive people in my career, but I did have one comment which has stuck with me. 
I won a scholarship from a local business back home and when I was awarded it, someone suggested that the only reason they gave it to me was because giving it to a girl would make them look better. Not because I deserved it or worked hard!

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
It really is tough, don’t worry about it feeling like a struggle or a lot of work because it is really challenging. Keep at it! 
Take regular breaks and remind yourself that you are capable of great things.


Meg Kirkman

1. What made you want to study physics?
I decided to study physics in my GCSE year after I attended a talk on sustainable energy and nuclear fusion, it was the first time I realised what a huge difference science could make to the world and I wanted to be a part of that.

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
The best thing I have done with my physics degree so far is probably all my time volunteering and then running the University of Manchester’s Physics Outreach department. I really enjoy going out into schools and speaking to the general public to help show people how amazing physics can be and it’s not the difficult and boring subject it tends to get labelled with in schools.

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do?
I am currently planning on training to become a teacher.

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
The hardest thing for me about physics has been the huge amount of work required to gain understanding of the more difficult topics at uni. It can be tough when you are struggling to know who to turn to as the lecturers are so busy and sometimes you feel your questions aren’t ‘hard enough’ to ask them. 

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
I have encountered quite a few forms of minor sexism throughout my physics degree. The occasion that springs to mind is probably when I was in my first year and I had just been elected as a student rep. One lad told his mate said it was because I wore short skirts and low-cut tops. I remember at the time being devastated that this is what a perfect stranger thought of me, and I didn’t wear another skirt for a few weeks.

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
My advice is to always talk to others if you are struggling and don't be scared to admit you need help. For weeks in my first year I didn't want to tell anyone I was finding uni life really difficult because everyone else seemed to be having such a good time, but the first time I finally told someone more and more people started to admit they too were finding it really hard. This is one of the hardest but most beneficial things to do when it all gets a bit much.


Beckie Lait
1. What made you want to study physics?
I always loved the idea of being able to explain the world around me. From a young age, I was encouraged to keep asking questions and this intrigue continued to build as I got older. Despite not loving physics at GCSE’s, I loved what it would allow me to study further on in physics.

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
One of the most important things I have learnt is that you’re not alone or the only one struggling. I have also learnt not to be too hard on myself and that if I’m trying my best, that’s the most I can ask of myself.

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do?
I am a swimming teacher part time so plan to make that full time for a few months while I take a little break from physics. 
In the evenings and at weekends I will then look for physics-based jobs which I will hopefully start in ~January 2021.

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
This may sound obvious but I think the hardest thing is some of the content that has to be learnt... it can be so tricky! It feels like such an achievement once you’ve cracked it though.

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
I have had people direct their answers at the men I was with, even when I was the one to ask the question. I also find that there are a few lecturers that may have the tendency to favour men, but I haven’t found it to be too explicit.

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
I would suggest finding a great group of people that you work well with and can bounce off of. Not only for helping each other with work but also to have a break with when you have finished your work. 
I would also recommend really structuring your time so that you can make sure you have quality revision time and quality relaxing time.



Anonymous

1. What made you want to study physics?
It was something that I found intriguing. I wanted to learn more, but didn’t believe I would continue in my spare time beyond college, so decided to continue studying at university. 

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
Cosmology was pretty awesome, but I think the best thing I've achieved has been the understanding that you don't have to push yourself to breaking point or lose touch with yourself through university; what use is getting a first if you leave feeling defeated and struggling?

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do?
I have a job offer in the technology consulting sector, but I plan to postpone work until January to give myself time to travel and save money while living at home. I'm applying to different jobs to do with environmental consulting as I'd love to do something to benefit climate change and the environment and if I get an offer before January that's the route I'll take. 

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
Staying motivated for such a demanding degree! The contact hours, the lab hours, the self motivated extra study - it's all been worth it but the past years have been difficult, it's only now in my final semester of my final year that I actually feel like I can do this and the reality has set in that I'll be graduating with a physics degree!

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
Mainly just shock at what I study when people ask. Within the University I've never come across any sexism but that doesn't mean it never exists. I'm lucky to have found myself studying in such an inclusive and diverse city.

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
Never be afraid to ask for help, take time for yourself and getting a first isn't worth getting yourself ill. I've grown so much throughout university and had so many amazing (and terrible) experiences, but the main thing I'm proud of is the fact that I'm leaving university healthy - both physically and mentally, and the happiest I've ever been! Put yourself and your own health before your studies and, quite honestly, before others. This age is such an important time in your life. The most important thing is coming into your own. Good luck!


Finally Meeeee (thought I would answer too since I've made them all do it)

1. What made you want to study physics?
I actually didn't decide I wanted to study physics until just before I submitted my UCAS applications! 
I had always been good at maths and science and I enjoyed it, but I also had many other interests. For a while I considered going into art, but I eventually came to the decision that I can draw whenever I want, it's a bit harder to teach yourself physics!

2. What’s been the best thing you’ve achieved and/or learnt during your physics career so far?
I spent last summer doing a software engineering internship with a company called Codethink (I have mentioned them before) which I really enjoyed and learnt a lot of useful things from. Other than that, so far, I think my biggest achievements are ones that aren't necessarily physics related; recognising when I needed to take time out and coming back from that stronger, realising I am clever and capable enough to do this degree, and pursuing the dreams I want instead of not doing something because I don't think I'm good enough.

3. What are you doing post uni/ what do you plan to do?
Honestly, I have no idea. But that's okay!!
I know I would like to travel at some point, and I am hoping to hear back from some particle research related internships I have applied for, for next summer. Maybe I'll get one and love it and decide to do a PhD, or maybe I'll hate it and decide on something else! I have time, and for now I'm happy to just keep seeing what opportunities head my way.

4. What’s been the hardest thing about studying physics?
Finding a good balance. 
Crazy amounts of work, wanting a good social life, finding time for yourself, keeping up with hobbies, exercise, along with whatever else life throws at you. I've come to decide that I don't think a recipe for the perfect balance exists, and that's good; it's what makes us different and keeps us learning. 
But it doesn’t help make juggling life any easier.

5. Have you ever experienced any form of sexism towards being a female in physics?
I think I've been rather lucky when it comes to sexism. Fortunately, the worst I’ve experienced is probably just being second guessed when I tell someone I study physics. I do think the scientific world is getting much better when it comes to gender inequalities, however I do know people who have experienced worse. 
To those people, I hope you can find a group of supportive and encouraging friends to remind you that whatever adversity you’re facing shouldn't effect you negatively; remember it’s never a reflection of you, only the person doing the judging! Don’t let it get in the way of your dreams and if anything, use it to drive your ambition and prove them wrong!

6. Do you have any advice for girls who may be just beginning or struggling with their physics studies?
My previous post has a lot of tips for this! But my main advice would be to just enjoy your studies as much as you can! Find the fun in it and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.
This is physics we’re talking about; it literally IS rocket science.
It may take a lot of effort, a lot of patience, and a lot of hugs, but if you stick with it and enjoy your time studying, in the end, you’ll be so proud of yourself.




Stay Spacey,

Beck

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