"There are always new people to meet and new connections to form": meet Rebecca, doctoral student at CERN.

Everyone working here is so excited about the work they do.

Hi Rebecca, tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to CERN? 

Hi all! I am Rebecca, I am from the UK, from Imperial College London and I have been a doctoral student at CERN since March 2021. I have always intended to come to CERN as a physics researcher, and even from the age of 12 chose my language and science modules in the hope that I would come to work here someday! 
I was very lucky growing up to visit CERN in a variety of different ways; as a tourist in 2012 on holiday, as a high-school student in 2015, as a university student in 2019, and then the extraordinary opportunity to live on the CERN site for 3 months as a summer student. It was as a summer student here that I was able to explore and discover what I wanted to do as a PhD, and was finally able to return 2 years later. I count myself as very lucky that I have so much exposure to particle physics and CERN activities which helped me towards building my future here.

What do you do at CERN today?

I am an accelerator physicist for the NIMMS collaboration! This means I have been designing a new accelerator by looking at the arrangement and details of magnets in a synchrotron, and simulating how the beam goes around the accelerator. NIMMS is the Next Ion Medical Machine Study, and we are making a tool-kit of accelerator components for hadron therapy, trying to work out how to build a compact system which can irradiate tumours using protons, helium ions and carbon ions. As it will be a superconducting synchrotron, a lot of innovative accelerator techniques are required to make the machine as small as possible to fit in a clinical environment. My exact job is to work out how to slowly get the beam out from the accelerator, and extract it over millions of turns so that it is suitable for patient treatment.
I have also been applying these techniques to CERN accelerators and doing slow extraction machine development studies for the Proton Synchrotron.

What is working at CERN like for you?

CERN is a very unique environment because everyone working here is so excited about the work they do, and everyone works on something very specific and technical. This means every day something different can happen, as you meet more people who would be delighted to show you what they work on. This is especially exciting as a young researcher, as new technical, masters, and doctoral students arrive each month, meaning there are always new people to meet and new connections to form.
Also there is nowhere else in the world which has such a large collection of beautiful experiments - whenever you can have a chance to visit a detector, accelerator or beamline, I recommend it, as each one is so different and so complex. If you ever get the chance, I especially recommend you find a guide to show you the Antimatter Decelerator or the NA62 beamline, as these are smaller experiments which give you the chance to see an experiment in its completion, from start to end.

What have been the main hurdles or challenges you encountered along the way?

It goes without saying that working in an international environment and meeting lots of new people is harder to accomplish during the pandemic, and sometimes it can be harder to find those opportunities which were so plentiful before 2020. This is especially true for PhD students as they would often travel abroad to conferences or other institutes as part of their learning, something which is now missing. Know that there is still plenty of work that can be done online or through teleworking, and that you still feel as though you are part of something bigger and achieve some meaningful research whilst dealing with these difficulties.

What advice would you give potential applicants?

I have two pieces of advice which are linked! The first is to know what you want; it is one thing to want to work at CERN, but you show advancement by knowing exactly what experiment, or topic or research you want to do. Have a google of specific topics which interest you, read some papers which catch your eye, and maybe even try to send a few emails to the authors or researchers in that field if you have questions or interests - everyone at CERN enjoys talking about their work, so getting the attention of the right people can help you a lot.
The second advice is to plan in advance! Getting to CERN takes time, and if you can contact the right people before making the application to a PhD or CERN programme, things may work out smoother for you.

Inspired? If you're a student looking for a unique opportunity to complement your STEM or admin. studies, check out our different technical, doctoral and administrative programmes and apply!

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