A brief history of your career since leaving the University of Birmingham

After graduating from UoB with a PhD in Condensed Matter Physics in 2009, I moved to the Paul Scherrer Institute as a post-doctoral researcher. I have since continued at the same institute up until now, and in 2016 I was promoted to a tenured position of Senior Scientist. In my position I perform fundamental research into the magnetic properties of materials.

Skills and knowledge from your postgraduate degree have you used in your career so far

My PhD training was critical; my training in advanced experimental techniques at international facilities led me to develop a skill set which I have carried forward into my research career. The knowledge obtained in my specialist field of physics during the PhD opened doors to new research collaborations, and ultimately new research topics. Without my PhD training I would not have been able to pursue my present career.

Main work activities in your current role

I design and execute the fundamental experimental research of quantum materials using state of the art research techniques. The purpose of the research is to discover and characterise new properties of materials that may then one day have the potential to be useful for society.

A typical day in your job

No one day is the same. I can be planning or performing experiments using the facilities at the institute, writing up the results for publications, visiting other facilities in different countries, presenting the results at workshops and conferences all over the world, catching up with the research literature, and, more recently, the training junior staff members. These core activities make up most of my days, but there is no typical day with an obvious routine.

Main challenges in your role

Sometimes there are so many opportunities for research at institutes like mine. This means that if you say yes to everything then you quickly run out of time to complete your tasks to a sufficiently high quality. So having the ability to say 'no' was my biggest challenge, particularly before becoming tenured. Another challenge is that sometimes there are communications issues too, due to there being multiple foreign languages in a single room. Most researchers speak very good English, but still I find that some things can be lost in translation which can unintentionally lead to complicated situations. I have no formal skills in foreign languages, which I thought wouldn't be an issue since 'everyone speaks English, don't they?' but the reality is that an ability to speak another language goes a long way, not only at work but also in daily life.

Why did this type of work appeal to you?

I've loved doing science experiments since childhood, and really enjoyed the research I did during my PhD in physics. To be at the cutting edge of a research field excited me as much then as it does now, so accepting the post-doctoral position at my institute was a natural way to turn my passion into a career.

Advice for students looking to enter this area of work?

I thought that I had already worked hard to achieve my PhD, but the transition to post-doctoral researcher and the higher working intensity was more of a challenge. I had to put in a huge amount of effort to achieve good results, learn to work truly independently of a supervisor, and ultimately earn a permanent position. I was fortunate in that I have not had to move between institutes during my post-doctoral training, but this is untypical. I have observed that many post-docs will likely move at least one more time before securing a permanent contract. So my advice is that if you are prepared to move between research institutes or laboratories to further your career, and are willing to apply yourself, a research career is well within reach!