Prestigious scholarship for UofG physics PhD student

Published: 14 June 2023

A postgraduate student from the School of Physics & Astronomy has been awarded a prestigious scholarship from the Institute of Physics (IOP).

A postgraduate student from the University of Glasgow has been awarded a prestigious scholarship from the Institute of Physics (IOP).
Lauren Muir, a PhD student in the School of Physics & Astronomy, has been named as one of this year’s recipients of the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund.
The scholarship is named after the pioneering astrophysicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a graduate of the University of Glasgow who discovered the first evidence of radio pulsars in 1967.
The graduate scholarship fund was instigated by Professor Dame Bell Burnell and the IOP in 2019 after Dame Jocelyn was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her role in the discovery of pulsars. 
Dame Jocelyn immediately donated her entire £2.3m prize award to the IOP. Her aim was to help counter what she described as “the unconscious bias that still exists in physics research”, adding: “I don’t need the money myself, and it seemed to me that this was perhaps the best use I could put it to.”
The fund aims to improve diversity in physics by offering doctoral scholarships to students from groups currently underrepresented in the physics research community. 
Those eligible include women, people with refugee status, ethnic minorities, disabled or financially disadvantaged students – and others who would otherwise struggle to complete a course of postgraduate study due to their circumstances. 
Lauren received the award to support her research proposal, titled ‘Nurturing Physics Identity in Undergraduate Students through Learning Communities’.A picture of Physics & Astronomy PhD student Lauren Muir

Lauren is passionate about widening participation and supporting those from under-represented backgrounds to fulfil their potential. Her research examines the correlation between students feeling like they are members of a learning community and how strongly they perceive themselves to be physicists.
Lauren said: “Today, so much of science relies on collaboration, and therefore when designing our undergraduate courses that will be supporting the development of physicists of tomorrow, it is important to support students in forming communities and working collaboratively. Students with strong physics identities are more likely to stay in the field and have generally higher levels of satisfaction – and these benefits are particularly notable for students from minority groups.
“I hope to better understand the relationship between these two pillars of educational practice, and as a result how we can design undergraduate courses that allow those from all backgrounds to flourish.”
Lauren is one of 10 new awardees announced today. To date, the Fund has enabled 31 students to begin PhDs they would otherwise not have been able to take on. 
Lauren said: “Receiving the Bell-Burnell scholarship is an absolute dream come true. Over the years, I’ve been told many times that I was too opinionated and that my voice wasn’t important, and there have been multiple instances where I was made to feel like I didn’t belong in a physics classroom because I am a woman.
“I’m so grateful that the panel recognised my passion and dedication, it’s an affirmation that the causes I care about are important and that my perspective is valuable.
“Furthermore, it feels incredibly validating that all the work I’ve done over the years has now come to fruition. I’ve been keenly interested in physics education research for years, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Astronomy and Physics Education research group in various capacities throughout my time at the University of Glasgow.
“These experiences were incredibly formative for me, and it was the first time I felt I truly belonged in the physics department – the people I worked with were a massive inspiration for me and highlighted that I could unite my passions of physics and education. They are a wonderful team of people who care deeply about the work they do, and I am so excited to join them!
“I hope to use my platform as a recipient of the Bell-Burnell scholarship to expand the perception of who can become a physicist, and indeed this project will actively promote the School of Physics and Astronomy’s ethos of inclusivity and diversity.”
Rachel Youngman, Deputy Chief Executive of the IOP, said: “This year I am delighted that we have been able to continue the amazing legacy of Dame Jocelyn in supporting 10 incredibly promising students in furthering their studies and building their careers in physics.
“We desperately need physicists to help us meet the challenges of the next industrial age; whether that is in helping make nuclear fusion a viable source of energy production, exploiting the opportunities of quantum computing or helping design faster, smaller and more powerful semi-conductors. 
“Wherever we look there are problems that need physicists to help solve them and the more diverse we can make the population of physics researchers and innovators the more effective and creative it will be.
“The Fund set up by Dame Jocelyn is already helping to achieve this. To date, it has enabled 31 students to embark upon a physics PhD, helping them to start their journey to a rewarding and exciting career.
“Already students who have been supported are working across the UK in academia and business helping us solve some of the most important challenges of our times, in low carbon energy, medical sciences, computing and many, many other areas.  
“This is wonderful news for those awarded grants, who deserve the highest congratulations, but it is also already making an impact on all of our lives thanks to the science it is supporting and will continue to do so for many years to come.”
Professor Helen Gleeson, Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds and IOP Representative to Council for Inclusion and Diversity, is the Chair of the Fund Committee.
She said: “Every year the standard of applications for this fund gets higher and higher and the ten successful applicants have all done incredibly well.
“There is no doubt that physics will provide the scientific applications and solutions to so many of the problems we face in our society and economy today and these Bell Burnell award winners will be at the very heart of that work.
“I wish them all the best in their future work and will watch their careers with interest!”

First published: 14 June 2023