Tell us a bit about yourself - what stage of your PhD are you in and what's your project about?
I’m a year and a half into my PhD at the moment so around the half way point. My project involves studying strongly spin-orbit coupled semiconductor materials in order to generate spin-polarized currents without the need for external magnetic fields. Spin-polarized currents are needed for spin injection into quantum technologies such as electron spin qubits. I am primarily an experimental quantum physicist but my project also involves some computational physics too.
What does a typical day or week look like for you?
No day or week is ever the same really! My time is generally split between quantum transport experiments in the lab, fabricating new devices in the clean room, writing code for data analysis, developing software for data acquisition and experimental control, reading papers, writing papers and my thesis, and programming to create simulations of the quantum systems I am studying experimentally. Part of what I like about being a researcher is the wide variety of things that make up my time.
What's one thing that you've enjoyed the most during your PhD?
Being able to completely absorb myself in a subject I’m really passionate about! I really do get a thrill every time I get a new result, even if it’s something I wasn’t expecting it’s still something new to understand and learn from. Being at the forefront of human knowledge (even if it is in a tiny niche) is really exciting.
What's been the most challenging part of it?
Probably managing my disability alongside PhD life. This involves a lot of self-advocacy and making sure I have my reasonable adjustments. Sometimes I am unable to be as productive as I would like to be because of my disability which is frustrating but I’m learning to not hold myself to perfectionist standards and not to compare myself too much to others. Luckily my university has an amazing disability support service and I get access to a non-medical helper for an hour once a week thanks to the Disabled Students Allowance. If you have a disability and want to pursue a PhD in the UK, DSAs are definitely something you should look into. The support is there, it’s just not advertised very well.
Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
I think I’ll still be in experimental quantum physics research. Whether it is in academia or in industry, doing my PhD has solidified the fact that research is what I enjoy doing more than anything. I also hope to be doing some science communication alongside working as a physicist.
What's one piece of advice that you'd offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Make sure you’re doing research that you are truly passionate about. A PhD takes 3-4 years which is a lot of time to dedicate to just one project. Try not to be swayed by the prestige of some institutions as they may not be a good fit for you research-wise.
What makes your university a good place to study?
It’s a lovely environment to study in and the campus is beautiful. As I mentioned before, the disability support is great (at least in my experience) and the physics department here is very supportive on the whole. I also love the fact that Surrey has the Advanced Technology Institute (which is where I am based). This means that I get to work with people from across many disciplines including engineers, theoretical physicists and chemists. The fact that we’re all in the same building really helps facilitate collaboration across diciplines which is where some of the most exciting and interesting research happens in my opinion.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to indulge in my hobbies when I can. This includes gardening, baking, reading and spending time with my cat! Resting is very important during a PhD so I make sure to have days off during the weekends when I can.