"CERN is like nowhere I have worked before, an international team working together to discover the unknown and to create the uncreated."
Hello Zoe, tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to CERN?
I originally studied aerospace engineering at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol in the UK. As I am originally from Plymouth I did not travel far for university. If someone told me when I started my degree back in 2012 that I would one day move to Switzerland and be conversing in French, I would look back on my terrible attempts at GCSE French and think it was a joke!
My route to CERN is relatively normal actually: I took A-levels, did my Bachelor degree with a placement and then finally my Masters. However, the diversity of opportunities I have had has been anything but normal. I decided that for me university was more than just grades: it was a chance to say “yes” to a wide variety of opportunities. During my time at university, I joined the UWE branch of UKSED’s, a society based on exploring space. From my time there, I was invited to Padua in Italy where I joined European enthusiasts for space exploration; with my confidence growing I accepted the opportunity to help draft the official report for the UN Peaceful Treaty of Outer Space. From accepting to do that, I was then invited to the European Space Agency (ESA) in Paris in 2017, and this year to Romania. The contacts I made from this opportunity gave me confidence to apply for CERN; in fact one of my references was my team lead on the UN report I helped with.
What do you do at CERN today?
Today, I work at CERN as a junior fellow, assigned to the project of the FCC (Future Circular collider). The FCC is a new 100km, 16 Telsa collider, which would be a worldwide collaboration project. My role is the research into the feasibility of fitting the new dipole magnets into the original LHC tunnel; an intermediate solution. The idea is similar to the game played by babies of fitting the correct block into the correct hole, where the dipole is a square and the tunnel is the circular hole. It’s a project of many iterations and a balancing act of magnets, structures and cryostats.
Before I moved to Switzerland I had the standard mixture of excitement and nervousness: worried if I could keep up with the pace, meet people I would get along with and even if they would understand my very strong English West Country accent. It only took me 24 hours at CERN to realise that whilst my time here would push me academically, there is a wide support network. I have undertaken computational training, languages courses and been to conferences, all which I have appreciated and enjoyed.
What is working at CERN like for you?
CERN is like nowhere I have worked before, an international team working together to discover the unknown and to create the uncreated. Through my time here at CERN what has struck me are the people: my team, friends and supervisors. I was fortunate that on my first day my department had more than one new starter, so I was able to share the excitement and nerves with someone else. However even within one week of arriving into my department my team was helping me settle in, sending me apartments that they would recommend, driving me to IKEA so I could buy a bed and simply showing me what social events were in Geneva.
I only arrived in Geneva 6 months ago, however I have enjoyed every moment of it. From arriving in the summer and going down to the lake to enjoying the winter and snowboarding in the Alps, it has been a fantastic opportunity for my professional and social life.
And any advice you’d give to potential applicants?
My advice is simple say yes to every opportunity, you never know whom you will meet! There is no better feeling than having a worldwide network of advice and friends being able to go to contact someone whenever you have problem. Or the ability to go to cities around the world, meeting up with old friends and getting a personally tour from a local.