Louise, MPhys Theoretical Physics 2017
Graduate Project Manager, RAL Space

I came to St Andrews to start my undergraduate degree in 2012, I started off aiming for Astrophysics but along the way made some changes and graduated in June 2017 with an MPhys in Theoretical Physics, keeping some Astro modules alongside my eventual specialisation in condensed matter & quantum physics.

I now work as a Graduate Project Manager at STFC RAL Space in their Imaging Systems Division. RAL Space is the ‘Space Department’ of the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, which is the funding council that funds astrophysics and fundamental physics research, as well as running a number of facilities. RAL Space is based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) on the Harwell campus in South Oxfordshire which also houses a number of other space industry companies.

I work with a team of engineers who design and build the electronics for camera systems on spacecraft, looking after the schedule, budget, resource management, bids for new work and ensuring delivery dates are met. My days are varied, I can be attending progress meetings with engineers, writing reports for customers, writing bids for grants, presenting bids for new work, and occasionally running round making sure everything is in order for a customer visit. I’ve learned so much in a short space of time, about both Project Management and electronics, and my experiences in St Andrews, both academic and otherwise, led me to developing the necessary skills for my current job.

During my final year I applied to PhDs, but having done my final year project I decided that it wasn’t the right time for me to continue in research, and that I wanted to do something more deadline driven and people orientated, but still related to science and technology. After some time out after graduating I secured the Project Manager job, drawing on many of my St Andrews experiences both in the application process and now in my day-to-day job.

During my time in St Andrews I became heavily involved in student representation, from being a class rep, to School President and then Faculty President, sitting on the Students’ Representative Council and the University's Academic Council. Through these roles I had to liaise with other students and all levels of staff, collecting and reporting feedback and working towards solutions that worked for everyone by communicating effectively and appropriately with each group. I still use these skills today when communicating with colleagues of varying levels of seniority and external customers.

I also held a number of roles in society committees, predominantly AstroSoc, which gave me the opportunity to organise events and trips, working within budgets and practical problem solving when things inevitably didn’t quite turn out as planned. I also loved being involved in many of the School of Physics & Astronomy’s Outreach events, from the big Science Discovery Day to smaller school and summer school workshops, demonstrating conservation of angular momentum with the spinning chair, making comets and helping with soldering of electronic circuits. This is something I have brought into my job as STFC encourages all graduates to get involved in its public engagement programme.

Additionally in St Andrews I found some time to enjoy Scottish Country Dancing with Celtic Society and play with the Women’s Cricket team. All my extra curricular activities meant that I got to work with a wide range of people in a lot of different contexts, and that I had to manage my time effectively to still get all my work done to my best standard. This juggling of priorities is something that has proved very important in my working life, as I’m often involved with many different projects all at once and being able to rationalise and prioritise has been an important skill.

Although I am not actually doing science myself at the moment I am still exposed to a lot of research at STFC. The academic side of what I learned at St Andrews means that I can understand and appreciate the science goals of the spacecraft cameras that my division make and make the most of tours of the other facilities on site and the frequent guest speakers. These opportunities combined with the social side of my workplace through the graduate scheme, the Recreational Society and onsite sports (including a summer rounders league!) mean that I am very much enjoying this next chapter!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying Physics at St Andrews, and will always be proud to be a graduate. I learned so much more than just the science and left with a wealth of experiences and friends that I’ve carried into my post graduation life. I’d recommend to everyone to make the most of all the opportunities St Andrews can offer!

First posted BDS 10.18