My summer as a young scientist
After an interview process at the end of the first year of my Physics undergraduate studies at Imperial College, I was given the unique opportunity to become a young researcher for eight weeks over the summer in the Plasma Physics Department at Imperial College.
My work involved helping to build something that can accelerate charged particles, like electrons that make up me and you. It was called a Wakefield accelerator and it could fit on your coffee table!
Here is what the vacuum chamber for the wakefield accelerator looked like:
But like you, I had no idea what this object was, what it could do or what it was useful for – as far as I was concerned it was just a metal cube! I began to worry that the stereotype of girls being ‘weak’ at Physics would become reality…
When I was introduced to the staff in the Plasma Group I wasn’t surprised to find that there was only one female in the Group, so it felt great to increase the numbers. I certainly felt the initial judgement that I wasn’t clever enough for the Group or so I felt… I was introduced to the project I was going to be working on and immediately I was overwhelmed by the information! But after a day or two of solid research I quickly grasped the information and I was able to understand what on earth the Plasma Physics Group were on about! I broke the stereotype of females being too ‘dumb’ for Physics. Day 5 and I was ready to show all those male brains in the Group meeting that I could do as well as the boys. Luckily all my hard work that week paid off and they didn’t think I was stupid, I felt a part of the team and that my input was valued – my initial worries quickly vanished after this. Phew!
By the third week I was getting into the nitty gritty parts of my project and I started to gain confidence in my ability. This was partly due to my friendly, supportive and encouraging supervisors who were always appreciative of my efforts. The placement acted as a very steep learning curve for me; my knowledge and skills before the placement were miniscule in comparison to that after the placement – I felt so honoured to have been given such a valuable experience that shall aid me in my future career. My computing, communication, laboratory, data analysis, teamwork and report writing skills were greatly enhanced and the experience looks great on my CV which shall give me an edge in future placements and job applications. I would definitely recommend a quick search on your university website for any placements they may offer, in addition to a Google search of companies, institutions or organisations you may be interested in working with.
As an added bonus, I was very privileged to be able to see the laser facility being built at Imperial College – right beneath the lecture theatre I sit in! As the cherry on top I was able to visit the huge laser system, Gemini, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory’s Central Laser Facility in Didcot, Oxfordshire – one of the world’s leading laser facilities.
So for all you, young scientists out there, especially the girls, don’t ever think you are not good enough. You will be pleasantly surprised when you step outside your comfort zone and try something new!
For a more detailed account of my experience check out my blog which is featured on my website: www.meriameberboucha.weebly.com