Alex Blanchard - PhD Student at University of Strathclyde

Issued: Tue, 14 Jul 2020 00:00:00 BST

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I’ve lived in 3 countries of the United Kingdom (Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland)!

Tell us about your career journey so far

I did a physics undergraduate, and then went onto a graduate scheme. What I would like to stress here is that your career is yours, not some company’s, or even your manager’s career. On the graduate scheme, I was expected to find a job for myself in the company after the scheme was over. As I realised that the departments that I wanted to go into afterwards weren’t hiring, I decided it was best to leave and find a job elsewhere. I ended up making and testing gas detectors that use lasers for the gas detection. During this time, I again realised that I wanted to get into the research side of things, applying for jobs there, but unsuccessful, with the successful candidates having PhDs. With that, and the company declining, I felt it was time to apply for PhDs and am currently 16 months into my PhD!

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I’ve always enjoyed Physics, somewhat stereotypically of a PhD student! I loved wondering how the universe worked and how things fit together and worked, from electronics to the Sun to how medical equipment uses physics to help work out what’s wrong with you.

What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?

Being part of the Physics Department at Strathclyde, Physics was always going to be required! Other subjects that have been useful during my studentship have been maths, computing, for learning how to code, and chemistry, as my work ties into a group of chemists making new types of chemicals, so at least understanding the basics of what they’re saying has been useful.

What is a normal day in your role like?

I’m currently in a large data-gathering portion of my research so I’m splitting my time between gathering data, writing code to analyse it, checking said code works, and then analysing it. I also make short sets of slides to show the results of the data analysis, which also helps starts conversations about what I’m doing and what I can do in the future.

What's your favourite thing about your job?

I love the freedom that I’ve been allowed to have in terms of what I study. Even though I’m doing a project with a brief, I’ve been able to explore it how I want to and look at various parts of the project.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
Please share links to relevant resources.

In the experiments that I run, I use lenses to refract, or bend the light as needed. One way to explore how this is done is with a glass. Put something straight in the glass that is taller than it (such as a straw). What happens as you move and tilt the straw? Make sure you are looking at the side of the glass. You can also use the glass to look at objects on the other side – what do they look like? Now fill up the glass with water. What changes? (example of the last bit can be seen here

If you're a STEM Ambassador in Scotland and want to share your story you can download the form here.