STFC Particle Physics Summer School: Tales of One Participant

17 Sep 2013 - 14:28:20 by in Research Trip

One of the requirements of being a PhD student in the particle physics department at most UK institutions is that the students must attend a two week summer school to learn Quantum Electrodynamics and Chromodynamics, Quantum Field Theory, Standard Model Physics, and Phenomenology. As I just finished my first year as a dark matter PhD student at Royal Holloway, it was my turn to go. So I joined first year PhD students from all over the United Kingdom for two weeks of intensive learning.

In the past, this school has traditionally been held at Oxford, but this year the decision was made to hold the school at the University of Warwick, which is not located in Christchurch, (not a lesson you want to learn the hard way unless you enjoy long train rides), but instead is located in Coventry. The school is structured in the following format: There are two weeks of lectures with each week covers two subjects and there are eight one-hour lectures on each subject. Each day, students attempt to solve six intensive physics problems in the various subjects. Students have 3.5 hours to attempt said problems before they go to tutorials where various university lectures review answers to the problems. School starts at 9am every day and concludes at 7:00pm with dinner each day. Four days during the program there is a poster session following dinner. These days go until around 9:30. To call the summer school demanding is putting it lightly.

Now that I have described the format, I will describe my experience. Due to my accidental detour to the coast on my journey, I arrived late Sunday evening. I awoke early on the first day in time for a British breakfast in the cafeteria before going to the morning lectures. Lectures began and the information pummeling began. There was a furious scramble of pencil and paper as my hands danced across the page to copy down every equation and idea expertly displayed on the white board. After the first lecture, I went out in the hall for a quick caffeine injection and to meet some of the other students. I then began the daily attempt of learning the names, institutions, and research projects of all the participants. (Future summer schools should really do away with having members wear nametags and switch to t-shirts that include a project abstract. That would really make things easier.) The caffeine injection time was followed by another lecture in a different subject and once again my writing hand got a work out. After lectures we were assigned six advanced problems to attempt before tutorials. The neurons in my brain again went into full action searching for forgotten calculus identities, previously learned bits of Quantum theory, and the new information from the morning to put something down on paper. Then we all trudged to our small groups to learn the answers to the problems we had just attempted. This was followed by another caffeine injection and then finally, the last lecture of the day.

Then we woke up and repeated the process with the same food and schedule. It was really a wonderful time. In the mental chaos, and bodily exhaustion I found a strange, peaceful clarity. I finally found a sense of what I wanted my career to look like and what role I hoped physics would play in my life. I met other hopeful students with different types dreams. People who slogged through problem sessions feeling unworthy to be in the field who then would go on to present a poster on their research and their whole countenance would change. They would become alive and their eyes would sparkle with enthusiasm. During this time, I could look around the room and see the future academics, professionals, and industrial leaders. I wondered which tired face would one day produce a field changing paper.

So I left summer school and was eager to be home and back to an easier schedule. I think I have learned some physics. I certainly have gained a better understanding of my own goals and I am very excited to follow the successes of those I met.

Comments (edit)

-- VeroniqueBoisvert - 26 Sep 2013

That is a really interesting account, thanks Emily!


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Topic revision: r2 - 26 Sep 2013 - EmilyWilliams

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