Science at Cambridge: The Compelling and Creative World of Physics

Halfway through my degree, I can confidently say that there’s nothing I would rather be doing. Physics is a stimulating subject in so many ways, allowing a really deep understanding of how the physical world works, which can be excitingly counterintuitive.

Studying physics was a natural choice for me – I’ve always loved playing with maths, and physics extends that into making you consider what the maths is telling you about the real world. I enjoyed reading about physics at school, and studying it at university makes everything you’ve read in popular science books so much more compelling, by giving you tools to truly understand the concepts, and then use them to answer questions about how the universe operates.

It is not just the subject matter, but also the act of doing physics; I get a real rush as I suddenly figure out how to finish a question after over an hour’s thinking.

There’s so much stuff happening in the course: with labs, supervisions and extremely fast-paced lectures, it’s not possible to get bored. Many people wouldn’t consider physics to be a creative subject, but I would argue differently: devising solutions to problems you’ve never seen before requires a lot of creativity, and I think studying physics really demands and develops both this creativity and an analytic mind.

I have really enjoyed quantum mechanics this year, because the course hasn’t just introduced new concepts, but also new ways of thinking, in terms of symmetries, inner products and probabilities. This is one of the things I like most about studying physics: thinking in new ways is challenging, but also very exciting. It’s also satisfying just to be able to make predictions about the way microscopic systems behave, when it is so distant from my previous knowledge of the world. I’m really looking forward to third year as it will give me the chance to study subjects like particle physics which I have only previously read about in popular science books and news articles. I’m also excited to be able to do some of my own research, particularly in fourth year.

Murray Edwards is the best place I can imagine to study. There’s a real sense of community, where everyone wants to see everyone else succeed, and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by other women who are equally passionate about science. I’ve just started a year as co-chair of Cambridge University Physics Society, something which I could never have envisaged doing when I was at school. I think studying in Cambridge really gives you the courage to do crazy things!

Physics is a fantastic subject to study in all ways – stimulating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding.

The last two years have been thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring, and I feel confident knowing that whatever I choose to do after I graduate, my degree will have prepared me for it.

Fionn Bishop
Undergraduate student

Career Path: Benefiting Society Through Chemical Manufacturing

My educational background gave me a passion for applied science and engineering, and a summer vacation job in the chemical industry gave me an appreciation for the wide variety of opportunities available in manufacturing. I studied Chemical Engineering (at the University of Cambridge) and later in my career I undertook an MBA at Leeds University Management School.

Today, I work for a UK-based medium sized chemical manufacturing organisation which employs just over 200 people. I am responsible for the company’s Commercial activities – my job has many elements including strategic planning, marketing, stakeholder engagement and PR , business development, client management, project management and of course management of people as individuals and as teams.  A significant part of my role, together with my senior management team colleagues, is to provide leadership and direction to enable us to grow our business.

At Briar we work in partnership with our customers to manufacture products that benefit society.

For example, we synthesise molecules that help farmers to maintain a healthy crop, often in highly challenging climates, and veterinary products that prevent disease in cattle and sheep.

From our factory in Norwich we export products to every continent across the globe, and with most of our customers being large multi-national organisations, it means that inevitably I need to travel quite extensively. Business travel is not glamorous and is certainly not for everyone; it does involve a lot of long hours, being away from home, getting stuck in airports and you need to possess a large reserve of stamina and resourcefulness! However, it does suit me and I have been privileged to meet many fascinating people over the years and have learned a great deal about cultural awareness and trust in building long-standing relationships. The role is facilitated by my high energy levels, and satisfies my natural propensity for curiosity, plus my instincts for making connections between people to develop business opportunities, and therefore I find it highly stimulating.

It combines Science and Engineering with creativity.

At the time of writing this piece I am on day 3 of a 4 day shoot to produce a corporate video! I also enjoy the variety and the challenges presented by constant changes (such as BREXIT) in the global business environment – a business’ ability to adapt and evolve is critical, and the people with it. It’s a demanding  business world but none the less, it’s highly rewarding.

Susan Brench
Alumna

Head of Commercial, Briar Chemicals Ltd.