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Plan B

As part of the ESH Building my Skills programme each year, NUSTEM staff take part in a mock interview day with students from North East secondary schools. During the day, students have the opportunity to be interviewed once or twice by representatives from local businesses and other organisations.  At NUSTEM we see the interviews as part-practice and part ‘behind the scenes’ to gives students an insight into what they might be asked and why in an interview.

I ask the students to tell me about themselves, and what career they might thinking about.  As part of Building my Skills they will have already done some research into possible sectors of interest to them, so they all have something to say.  There’s always an wide range of detail in their answers; with some young people knowing very clearly what they want to do and why, and others who have only a vague idea.

Regardless of their answer, my follow-on question is:

‘What is your plan B?’

This often throws the students as I suspect they’re not often asked what happens if they’re not successful.

What is most interesting to me is that, in their answers, students will often change the whole direction of what they would like to do for their plan B.  For example, I’ve had students who had been interested in midwifery suggest that their plan B would be ‘something to do with drama’, or who wanted to be a tennis player, but their plan B would be ‘I dunno, maybe history?’.  Very few give suggestions that are in a similar sector to the one they are planning for.

At this point in the interview, I’ll talk about other possibilities that the students could do that is not their first choice, but that is linked to it.  Often I’ll suggest websites or resources that they might like to investigate.  For example, if a student wants to study medicine, but their predicted grades make that look unlikely we’ll talk about what is it about medicine that interests them.  They could study radiography, occupational therapy, Information management and so on.  (Although I do have to admit that if it’s the salary that they find attractive, then the other options aren’t so well paid!)

I would encourage all students (and teachers and parents/carers) to think about their Plan B.  Just in case.

Some useful websites:

Health careers from the NHS – an invaluable website for students that want to work in healthcare, and for their teachers and families to find out the huge range of careers.

This is Engineering from Engineering UK – looking at the opportunities in engineering from a range of different viewpoints e.g. design, space, fashion, sport

National Careers Service website – a government backed website which includes an A-Z description of over 800 different careers.

Connecting with Physics

When I did my A-levels a couple of decades ago, there were only two or three girls in my physics class. The situation has got a little better since then, but many girls still find they are in a minority in their physics class. Whilst this doesn’t stop the students enjoying physics and doing well, it can sometimes feel a bit isolating.

To help the situation here in the North East, Think Physics is running a second year of our Physics Connect Network. This aims to allow girls from different schools to connect with each other through on-campus meetings and an online support group.

The network kicks off on January 28th with a Saturday morning session. Award-winning physics communicator Dr Jess Wade will be talking about her research at University College, London, on flexible solar cells. We’ll also look at where physics can lead to in terms of careers.

Later in the term there will be sessions on practical work using K’Nex, an Easter revision morning, and a visit to a local physics-related industry (watch this space for details!).

You can find more about the network sessions here, and the timetable for January 28th, including a booking link, here.

Reece Engineering Summer School

As well as Physics Connect, Think Physics organises a three-week summer school for Year 12 female Physics and Engineering students. Funded by the Reece Foundation, the course provides an introduction to engineering in its many forms. It’s an intense and hectic few weeks, with industry visits, challenges, individual and group research, presentations… everything we can cram into the time.

Applications are now open for the 2017 school: for more information and the application form, click here.

See you this week? Timandra Harkness on Big Data and SUN at Life

This week we’ve not one but two outstanding opportunities to get your dose of fascinating, curious and very-slightly-sideways science:

  • On Thursday, broadcaster, writer and comedian Timandra Harkness gives the finale of our Physics Matters! series of public lectures, on Big Data. 6:30pm, Ellison Building, Northumbria campus: full details and tickets here. These talks are aimed at sixth-formers, but all are welcome. Free, but please register.
  • On Friday, as part of the Friday Night Life event at the Life Science Centre, poet Katrina Porteous and composer Peter Zinovieff present the premiere of their work ‘SUN’. The Chronicle have a lovely write-up, and full details are on Life’s website, where you can also buy tickets. Over-18s only.

We’re very much looking forward to both events, and we’ll hope to see you at one or both.

The Amazingly Enormous STEM Careers Poster

Here’s a neat resource from the terrific folks behind the globe-spanning celebration of the achievements of women in STEM which is Ada Lovelace Day: the aptly-named “Amazingly Enormous STEM Careers Poster”.

We’ve used it a couple of times and can recommend it. The only thing we’d say is that – as with all these sorts of resources – it can be slightly tricky to convey the idea that the list of jobs isn’t exhaustive. That’s particularly challenging when there’s little apparent connection between the job and the degree course… which is rather the point of this particular poster.

So: this is a really nicely-prepared resource, which benefits from a little thought and care about how you introduce or use it.

It’s available for download and self-printing, or you can buy physical posters, both via the links.

Calendar updates

If you’ve not visited our calendar of upcoming events recently, now would be a good time. We’ve added a bunch of stuff for the term ahead, from ourselves and others. Right now, we’re taking bookings for an excellent programme of lectures aimed at sixth form students, Physics Matters!, and we’re shortly kicking off the second year of our networking and support programme for girls studying physics, Physics Connect.

We add to the calendar whenever we come across something we think you might find useful or interesting, so do keep an eye on it!

A-Level Physics teachers: your thoughts welcome

A few months ago, we made a film of an A-level core practical: measuring g via the free-fall method. Many teachers responded to our invitation to comment, and to our shameless request for recommendations for funders. Well… that worked. Thanks for your kind words, and thanks to your kind words we’re making more of these films. We’re not yet revealing the funder, but we can reveal the first three (or four) practicals we’re filming. We’d also like your help again.

We’re filming next weekend, 21st/22nd May, and we’d be delighted if these films could reflect your experience with practicals you’ve completed, your thoughts about ones you’ve yet to teach, and so on. We’ve a crack team of advisors and supporters already involved, but nothing beats the broad experience of teachers across the UK (and internationally).

So: here are the outlines of the films we’re planning to make. Please leave a comment below if you’ve any pertinent thoughts. It’s extremely helpful if you sign your comments with your real name, and note your affiliations (ie. school, that you’re a teacher / head of department / examiner etc) if appropriate. As before, the films are intended primarily to support teachers, but may be of use to students for revision purposes.

Laser diffraction

  • Introduction to traditional two-slit diffraction apparatus, with recap of explanation.
  • Plotting slit/screen distance vs. slit spacing.
  • Discussion of laser safety issues and suppliers.
  • Suggestions around practicalities, and the value of the practical for exploring issues of experiment design.
  • Alternative arrangement using a wire rather than traditional double slit.
  • Second alternative using diffraction gratings and vertical arrangement.
  • (possibly – this film’s already getting quite long!) third alternative using diffraction from a CD, as suggested by OCR.
  • Discussion of historical context and significance.

Finding the EMF and internal resistance of a battery

  • Conceptual basis of internal resistance; review of relationship between EMF, terminal potential difference, current and internal resistance.
  • Apparatus, using multimeters, variable resistor, bare wire contacts.
  • Variations, including array of known resistors; switched contact; analogue meters.
  • Comparison of internal resistance of different battery types.
  • Discussion of value of this practical for exploring key lab skills, including careful but quick working.

Discharging a capacitor through a resistor

  • Using a data logger to explore capacitor behaviour.
  • Initial verification of \(V = V_0 e^{-t/RC}\); demonstrating that voltage decay half-life is constant, and the time taken to decay to \(1/e\) of the original value.
  • Manipulation of \(V = V_0 e^{-t/RC}\) to a form comparable with \(y = mx + c\); processing and plotting data accordingly.
  • Low-budget version of practical using voltmeter and stopclock, and with hand-processing of data.
  • Extend the practical to finding the value of an unknown capacitor.
  • Discussion of error.

Force on a current-carrying conductor in a magnetic field

  • The standard ammeter and balance arrangement.
  • Sequence of
  • Determining magnetic field strength.
  • Alternative arrangement with U-shaped wire segment.

Thanks in advance for all your comments and suggestions. Inevitably, we won’t be able to incorporate everything everybody suggests, but if you’ve come across a brilliant way of covering one of these practicals which we’ve not mentioned above, or have thoughts on aspects your students find particularly challenging – we’ll do our best to incorporate your ideas.

Final note: this post was written by Jonathan. Hello. I’m the film-maker behind all these videos, and while I am technically a physicist, I last saw most of these practicals in my own A-level studies more than 25 years ago. Any glaring howlers in the above are due to my misunderstanding of the scripts, and you can be reasonably confident that the many teachers involved in the filming will politely roll their eyes before we commit film-based crimes against physics.

Booklet: What is So Exciting About Physics?

Question: What do the following people have in common?

Answer: They all studied a physics degree, and are all in a new booklet called What is so Exciting About Physics?

Put together by a group of students at Cambridge University called Cavendish Inspiring Women, the booklet introduces a range of people discussing what they find exciting about Physics, and where it has taken them in their careers so far. The booklet’s a quick, punchy read that introduces a diverse range of role models, several of whom are working outside what you might think of as traditional physics-related jobs. Teachers, it’s well worth passing this one on to your students.

You can download a copy of the booklet from the CiW website, and follow the project via Twitter.

A-level Subject Take-up

Ofsted have published an analysis of the numbers and proportions of girls and boys studying A-level subjects in England:

Until now there has been no single source of data for schools or inspectors to consult that sets out the numbers and proportions of girls and boys that progress from Year 11 to AS levels and then from AS to A level. This report provides that data, so that schools can compare their own performance against the national picture. Several subjects have significantly unequal numbers of girls and boys, for example physics.

Do read the report for the figures in detail, but Dom McDonald, Programme Manager, Outreach at the Royal Society of Chemistry has the STEM subjects summary:

Also on Twitter, he went on to note that the most extreme subject appears to be Computing, with a girls:boys ratio of 0.09:1.

Yikes.

Future Opportunities: Atom Bank creating new jobs

Atom Bank is a new company which hopes to open as a bank in October 2015, and aims to employ 450 employees over the next five years. Located in Durham, Atom Bank describes itself as “designed for digital” and wants to offer the customer a new, innovative experience in banking, for those who engage with new ideas and new technologies.

Teachers: this is a great example to share with pupils to highlight career possibilities within the financial sector, which combine banking with digital and business roles.  In Atom bank, and companies like it, there will be careers in:

  • People and customer experience
  • Technology
  • Marketing and propositions
  • Finance and risk
  • Operations
  • Business

Job titles include: marketing, business analysts, solutions architects, technical architects, credit risk manager and financial crime (though we think that means preventing crime, not carrying it out).

Post 16 subject choices: Combinations of Maths, Computer Science,  Physics, Further Maths, Business Studies, and ICT will be useful for students aiming for careers in this sector.


Website: www.atombank.co.uk

Twitter: @atom_bank

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