How can I get into accelerator physics?

Accelerators are a wonderfully rich area to work in as they use lots of different areas of physics. If you’re still at school my advice is to study as many sciences as you can and include as much mathematics as you can as well. But remember that a well-rounded education is important so please don’t sacrifice your love of history, literature or art, the world needs a range of backgrounds, skills and approaches.

If you’re already at University and studying physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or something similar there is most likely a potential role for you in this field.

There are a range of internship opportunities in accelerator physics at labs and Universities around the world for undergraduate students, including:

Oxford Particle Physics Summer Internship

Fermilab (USA) Helen Edwards Internship Programme

CERN Summer Student Programme

Other USA-based opportunities can be found here


You could also attend one of the main Accelerator Schools:

CERN Accelerator School https://cas.web.cern.ch

US Particle Accelerator School http://uspas.fnal.gov

Joint Universities Accelerator School (JUAS) 

What are some good books to read about accelerators?

There aren’t a whole host of popular science books about accelerators, but there are plenty about particle physics. One of my favourites is Massive by Ian Sample . A coffee-table style book about accelerators is Engines of Discovery by Ted Wilson and Andy Sessler. I hope to add more to this list in time.

If you’d prefer to watch some short vidoes: I recently worked with the Royal Institution in London to make a series of short films (and a few longer ones) about accelerators, called ‘Particle Accelerators for Humanity’ so go check them out on YouTube

Can I do work experience with you?

It’s great that you’re interested in what I do! As I tend to travel a lot I am very limited in the amount of work experience opportunity I can offer. That said, many physics workplaces have the ability to take work experience students so if you’re interested in working with particle accelerators and are UK-based I recommend you apply to either Oxford Physics or STFC for work experience.

Do you charge a fee for speaking?

To balance my research, teaching and other roles (typically, I can spend up to 10% of my time on public engagement, including preparation) I will usually require a fee/honorarium for my time and my expenses to be covered. For corporate engagements or public speaking opportunities I have a scale of fees depending upon the engagement. I also do a number of pro-bono speaking engagements each year as part of my commitment to science communication.

Are you a real scientist?


(Believe it or not I get asked this. Don’t do it…)

Where can I find your publication list?

You can see my publication list via my ResearcherID and grants as well on ORCID. These things can take a little while to be fully up-to-date.

There aren’t many women in your field, how do you feel about that?

I wish there were more women in my field and I am active in trying to raise the profile of women in physics. I am aware of the need for role models and I believe the best way I can provide one is to be the best scientist I can be, while being open about what it’s like to be an actual human being who does science. For a while I wrote a blog about this, though it is infrequently updated now.

If you’re in physics yourself, one of the best ways you can help to address the gender imbalance and general lack of diversity in physics and in top levels of academia is to understand the topic and read up on it. Really until you do this the argument will keep going around in circles.

However, please remember that just because I am a woman it is not my job to educate you about gender bias, implicit bias, sexism, feminism, stereotypes, impostor syndrome and so forth. If I share my thoughts on these topics it is because I have given up my spare time to do so. Time I could have spent doing any number of other more enjoyable things. Please remember that.

Sometimes I take long breaks from engaging on these issues, usually this is because I am simply too busy, but sometimes it’s so I can recover from the negativity and find a positive place to approach the topic from.

Also, before you tell me I should take action x or y on this topic, remember it is not the job of women alone to ‘fix’ the imbalance. After that, think about what actions YOU can take to help.

Why do you tweet a lot about gender bias/sexism/racism rather than just science?

Please read this from Astrophysicist Dr. Katie Mack, who puts it perfectly.

Will you join my ‘women in science’ event?

Maybe. Mostly it depends on whether I have time but certain things will sway me either way. If your event is a panel on issues affecting women in science, it depends on the starting point of the discussion. There is a whole field of research on gender bias and many scientists who also happen to be female are a little tired of hearing endless anecdotes and ‘theories’ about the gender gap when data is available. I am not an expert on gender bias but I sure have read a lot around the topic, so I expect the organisers and panel to be similarly well informed. Otherwise, I will likely have to decline.

Will you read my theory/idea?

No. If you think you have a good theory, idea etc… the best way to get it known is to publish it in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Submissions will be vetted by editors for quality and fit for the journal and then sent out to peer review. I already peer review a fair few papers (and we are not paid for this part of our role, it is a service to the academic community and we rely on other academic scientists taking time to review our work as well). Therefore I don’t have time for review of unsolicited non-journal based requests.

Commonly, ‘theories’ presented in this kind of approach do not fit the rigorous standards required of a proper theory. It takes a lot more than ‘I had an idea’ to develop a rigorous mathematical description of a new conceptual framework for understanding a physical phenomenon. If you don’t know how to do that part, I recommend you start with a degree course followed by a PhD. Yes it’s a huge time comittment but unfortunately there are no shortcuts.

Are you single/married/etc…?

While I am loathe to include this question as an FAQ, it is one of the most common questions I am asked. So if you’re wondering, then please know it is none of your business. I suggest reading FAQ’s above re. women in science and refreshing your knowledge of sexual harassment laws.