Why Physics – What Inspired Me To Study Physics?

Hi, Lily here! Today I’m going to be chatting about why I decided to do a Physics degree. What inspired me and ultimately how I made my decision to apply to university to study Physics. Did I listen to my head or my heart? Were there any particular events or moments which helped me make my decision? What or who inspired me?

I first started thinking about what I might want to study at university when I was choosing my A Level options, so that would have been just before I took my GCSE exams. At this point I was pretty set on going to university as I loved learning and wanted to study something in more depth but I wasn’t entirely sure what that was going to be quite yet!

The first time I submitted my A Level choices I definitely went with the subjects I most enjoyed, I definitely went with my heart! I chose Maths, Physics, Chemistry and History. I knew quite early on that although I loved the sciences, I was more passionate about Physics and Chemistry than Biology. However this caused me a bit of a dilemma!

At school, because I was good at the sciences I was never really encouraged to study anything apart from Medicine. In general, schools often steer you towards becoming a doctor if you are good at the sciences and towards becoming a lawyer if you are good at the arts. This meant I felt quite confused as to what I should do! I found there was not a lot of advice or direction given to me beyond that and of course ‘Do what you enjoy!’.

Although I definitely believe you should follow the advice ‘Do what you enjoy!’ you do need to think a bit more deeply than that! I think the important questions you need to ask yourself are ‘What interests you the most?’, ‘What are you the most intrigued by?’ and ‘What do you want to keep learning about the most?’.

I am really glad that I decided to follow my heart and went on to study physics, however there are so many other options available if you think you would be interested in doing something more applied or specific!

I didn’t have a lot of experience when it came to something more applied like engineering (which my sister decided to study a couple years after me!) or computer science. Looking back I think I would have also enjoyed these, but at the time I definitely made the best decision for me! When I finished my physics degree I had lots of career options open to me and I am very thankful for that! It also meant I got to learn a really broad amount of content at university which again I really enjoyed!

However if you feel that your interest lies in something more specific then I would definitely recommend pursuing it! When you complete your studies you will have a really deep knowledge of that particular field which will put you at an advantage when looking for jobs in your particular area. However if you are more undecided on what you think you might want to do in the future, like I was, then a broader choice might be the better way to go!

During the summer before I started my A Levels I had pretty much decided I wanted to study Physics at university! In particular I had read some brilliant Physics books which inspired me and opened my eyes to the incredible things I could learn about. Studying Physics gives you a better understanding of everything in the world around us, from the very small (e.g. quantum physics) to the incredibly vast (e.g. astrophysics)! I realised there was so much more for me to find out and learn about. So many unanswered questions and brilliant theories yet to discover!

Once I was set on studying Physics at university, I decided to reassess my A Level choices. I talked to my teachers and agreed it would make more sense for me to study Further Maths instead of History. I made the decision based on the fact it would benefit me in the long run as I would have a better mathematical knowledge as I started my degree (looking back I think it definitely made the maths content in my degree easier to get to grips with!).

Over the years I think my passion for Physics was sparked by these key events and sources of inspiration:

  • Reading physics related books, in particular this one ‘The Particle At The End Of The Universe’ by Sean Carroll – It is all about particle physics and the hunt to find the Higgs Boson particle, it really inspired me and got me thinking more deeply about physics!
  • Visiting the Science Museum, London – throughout my childhood I was incredibly lucky to visit a few times! I always loved the ‘Exploring Space’ gallery the most, seeing all the rockets and space suits right up close like that!
  • Visiting CERN when I was 15 – we were staying in France just across the border from Geneva, Switzerland. We made a pretty unplanned trip over there and looked around the visitor centre and I was absolutely fascinated by it all! CERN is the The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the site of the Large Hadron Collider  – the world’s largest and highest energy particle collider (I will go into much more depth in a future post!)
  • Discovering Richard Feynman – a brilliant physicist and science communicator, Richard Feynman’s lectures opened my eyes to what university level physics might be like, you can watch videos of him lecturing on Youtube and all his lectures are free to read online!

Looking back and reflecting on the things that inspired me has been so, so interesting! I don’t come from a particularly science – y family so never felt compelled to study science, or to follow anyone I knew into science! I followed the path I did purely because I was interested and passionate about it! I wanted to learn more and I believed I could do it because of the support I was given from the amazing people around me!

Reflecting on this makes me even more passionate about increasing the visibility of female role models working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)! So young people can see people that look like them or come from the same background as them, studying or working in an area they are passionate about! It makes something you might think is impossible, seem much more possible!

What do you think inspires you?

Lily

2 Sisters in STEM

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Inspirational Interviews – Ella Podmore

Welcome to the first of our ‘Inspirational People’ interviews! We hope to make this a monthly series where we talk to amazing women doing incredible things in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths).

Hopefully these ‘Inspirational Interviews’ will give an eye-opening insight into the brilliant variety of roles there are on offer in STEM industries!

We will be talking to inspirational people about how they got to where they are today and what their job is all about!

Today we are talking to Ella Podmore – Lead Materials Engineer at McLaren Automotive! Read on to find out more…

Please can you introduce yourself and tell us about your current job?
Ella Podmore, I am lead materials engineer for McLaren Automotive. I am responsible for all material-related investigations within the business, right from R&D (Research & Development) projects into new material technology, through to problems we have on cars in the customer field.

What/Who inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I loved solving problems! I grew up around cars and watching F1, so had a dream I would be involved somehow. I knew I wanted to go down an engineering based route, but it wasn’t until I explored the more chemical areas of engineering (such as chemical/materials) that I understood materials engineering excites me most and appeared to have the best career opportunities in every industry (because everything is made from something!)

How did you get to where you are today?
Endless amounts of work experience allowed me to explore what areas of engineering I was interested in. After two insight programs at investment banks I also realised I wanted to be involved in the business-side of things too.
Studied a masters of engineering in materials engineering at Manchester university. My third year was an industrial placement year for which I managed to persuade McLaren to take me on as their first materials engineer! After what seemed like a 12 month interview, I was able to get a thesis topic from them to complete my degree with and after successfully solving a problem for McLaren, they offered me a job afterwards. 1.5 years later, and here I am!

What does your typical day look like?
I typically spend 40% of my time in the laboratory, conducting tests on materials or analysing components, the rest of the time is spent in meetings or report writing.
I always start my day crunching emails and organising my schedule, people often know this and catch me at my desk at this time! Probably answers 2-3 queries from other engineers who are after materials advice. Then meetings up until lunch on business or project updates, after which I go on a long run (most days!), so important to have a break.
After lunch I work in the laboratory on components given to me from the track or investigation work.
I finish up with further emails and report writing before heading home!

What are your career highlights so far?
Career highlights: travelling to Australia for the Melbourne Grand Prix, on blue peter for my contribution for STEM, being a case study for Harper Collins’ fictional inspiration series “big idea engineer”, achieving top 10 Autocar rising star for 2019
Future plans: will be to grow my department at McLaren and continue to help McLaren achieve technological excellence.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I contribute a lot to STEM; visiting schools in my spare time to discuss career opportunities as well as many public speaking events. This is all done alongside my technical work, but other than my job I love to exercise – frequently competing in short distance running events – I play a bit of piano as well but I mainly enjoy a good brunch!

Thanks Ella for taking the time to share your story!

Lily & Maisie

2SistersInSTEM

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Adapting To Working From Home

Whether you are at school, university or in the wonderful world of work, over the past few weeks you have most likely experienced some serious upheaval! One possible consequence of the difficult situation we are currently in is that you might now be working from home.

To all the extraordinary key workers out there who are keeping people safe, fed, connected and cared for – a massive thank you from us both!

The UK has now been in lockdown for over 40 days, and myself and Maisie have been living and working from my flat together. We usually live a good few hours away from each other so it has been a bit of a change for both of us! It has been really nice to be spending lots more time together – that said adjusting to living and working in a confined space has been interesting to say the least!

I have created a little home office at one end of the dining table and Maisie has set up camp at the other end. This makes for some fun when we both realise we have a work call at the same time and one of us has to shift it and get out of the room pronto!

However I am very glad for some company in the ‘office’. With the highlight of course being taking it in turns (kind of) to keep the constant flow of cups of tea coming. Luckily we work similar hours so we work in tandem – not causing too many distractions for each other! However as Maisie starts super early throughout the week she finishes earlier than me on a Friday – so Friday afternoon can be a bit of a struggle!

The majority of the work me and Maisie do is computer based, so we are lucky enough that we are able to do it remotely! We are both still working on similar projects to the ones we were before the lockdown started – so we haven’t had a big change there. However there has obviously been changes in how we communicate with our teams and how we progress our work forward. It has all been a really interesting learning experience and we are both trying to continually improve the way we work every day!

It has been a challenging process adapting to our new ‘normal’ – at least for the foreseeable future. In this strange time, there have been and will continue to be good days and bad days, but adapting to a new situation is always a tricky thing to do.

We have tried to create a routine in this strange and uncertain time to give us some kind of structure. This is definitely a help to us, it defines our time a little more. It means we know what day of the week it is at the very least – the days do have a tendency to merge together a little bit at the moment!

The extra time can be both a blessing and curse. It has given us time to work on projects (like this blog), read more books, improve our coding skills and spend more time together. However it also gives you the time to overthink things, worry and become anxious over little things that normally in our busy lives we don’t have the time to register!

Here are some of the things we have been finding the most useful whilst working from home so far:

  • trying to create a space in your home where you just do work – separate to where you relax.
  • setting a time for lunch and moving away from your working set up to take a break.
  • going outside, whether this is during your lunch break, before or after work – make sure you step outside and try and get some fresh air.
  • making sure you decide on a time to finish your working day – it can be easy to let work creep on longer than you usually would do being home all the time.
  • making a plan for what you will do after work – plan to watch a particular movie or TV show, to have a bath, read a book or cook a specific meal.

Stay home and stay safe everyone!

If you are working from home right now, how are you finding it?

Lily & Maisie

2 Sisters In STEM

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How We Became 2 Sisters Working In STEM

So how did we become 2 Sisters In STEM?

What paths did we take to get where we are today?

We thought a good way to kick off our blog would be to do a proper introduction and tell you a bit about ourselves. The journeys we have followed from school, through A Levels, to further study, working in industry and ultimately starting this blog! Hope you enjoy!

Lily

Hi! I’m Lily the slightly older and less ginger sister, I am 23 and live in the East of England. I am currently working in STEM as a Technology Graduate at BT, I joined BT in September 2019 and am absolutely loving it so far.

I have always been curious and liked solving problems, my poor mum bore the brunt of this when I was little and gave me puzzle books to keep me busy! And I’m so glad she did, as my love for puzzles helped me through years of school maths and science. All leading to me deciding to study Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Further Maths at A Level.

As I worked through my A Levels, spending more time studying fewer subjects I came to realise the majority of my interest and passion was for physics. I was really intrigued by all the questions that physicists still don’t have the answers for and the vastness of what I could learn about, from black holes to sub atomic particles.

I decided to apply to do a degree in Physics at University and I secured a place at the University of Bristol. I had a brilliant 3 years, there were times when I loved it and there were times when it was extremely difficult. But I learnt so much and loved living in Bristol a new, big, exciting city and it offered me lots of opportunities to see what I might like to do after I graduated.

After uni I did a lot of job hunting and a fair bit of soul searching and secured a job as a Science and Maths Facilitator at an EdTech (education technology) company. It allowed me to explore two of my biggest passions STEM communication and problem solving. I helped create innovative educational resources and worked on all stages of the product development process. From thinking up new ideas to testing them out in schools with young people and then fine tuning till we had a brilliant product. It was really rewarding and I learnt a lot!

I loved working on innovative solutions to problems and I decided I wanted to work in industry to explore and expand my skill set. So I set about applying for jobs in the technology sector and was lucky enough to be offered one at BT on the Technology Graduate scheme. I am currently on my first of 3 rotations and am really enjoying it so far! I have already learnt so much about the telecommunications industry and developed lots of technical skills and knowledge and I cannot wait for whatever opportunities lie ahead!

Maisie

Hi I’m Maisie, the younger and more ginger sister! I am 21 and currently doing an internship at Boeing Defence UK and working as a Logistical Support Engineer with Chinooks – so lots of helicopter data!

When I was younger I always enjoyed problem solving and building things – the classic Lego cliche applies here! My dad always tells me of the time when I was very little and I beat him in a game of dominoes. I must have always liked numbers… or maybe I’ve just been super competitive since birth.

I think I knew I wanted to go into engineering from about the age of 14, a few people I knew had done the Arkwright Scholarship (an award that encourages young leaders into engineering) and my mum encouraged me to apply for it. Amazingly I got offered it and was sponsored by Rolls Royce! This meant I was able to do work experience at Rolls Royce and I found out all about the different engineering disciplines.

I always loved making things and getting hands on experience when learning. This led me to study Product Design at GCSE and onto A Level. I always looked forward to those lessons, being able to come up with an idea and make it with your own hands is an amazing feeling.

I chose to do Maths, Physics and Product Design for my A levels, as with these I knew I could go on to apply for many different engineering or technology degrees. However I decided on Aerospace Engineering as it was the type of engineering I was most interested in and aircraft have always intrigued me.

After my A Levels I got a place at The University of Sheffield to study a degree in Aerospace Engineering. I absolutely love Sheffield, it’s the perfect city for me and I get to work in the amazing engineering building called the Diamond!

I knew I wanted to gain hands on, industry experience and to see what life working as an engineer is really like. So I decided to apply for an industrial placement and after lots and lots of applications I was offered one! I was over the moon when I got the call from Boeing as I was really keen to experience working in the aerospace sector.

Now I am 10 months into my year long internship at Boeing Defence UK and I am absolutely loving it.

We are both really excited to start sharing more of our stories and the tips & tricks we’ve learnt along the way!

Lily & Maisie

2 Sisters In STEM

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