Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Apologies, it's been a while. So you may have noticed that there have been a distinct lack of blog posts recently... For that I am truly sorry as I had promised family and friends that I would keep them updated on my adventures in Chicago by writing about them here. Oops. In my defence, I was having too much fun to blog. The work at Fermilab ended up being fairly straightforward (potentially more on that another time...), which effectively meant that I treated the entire experience like an extended holiday in America. Thanks US Department of Energy for funding my ten-week vacation in the States! I'll eventually get around to explaining some of my work on here, seeing as that is kind of the point of this blog, don't worry.

So, "what next?", I hear you cry. Straight after returning to Blighty (and I mean straight after - I only spent 21 hours at home) I moved down to London, where I'm now undertaking a six-week internship with Promontory Finance in their London office. I'm one and a half weeks into that now and am doing an amalgamation of various compliance and regulatory-related odd-jobs for my bosses. It's really just your stereotypical internship in the City.

Whilst here, I've also been interviewed (officially, not just over the phone from my apartment in Chicago (just realised I'll have to explain that later too...)) for a graduate position in structuring with RBS Japan in Tokyo.

More on everything at a later date. I promise. Well, I promise-with-my-fingers-crossed-behind-my-back...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Minor Planet 23248 Batchelor

So, long story short, I have a near-earth asteroid named after me. It’s pretty much the second-coolest thing I own (apologies, but first place has to go to my new handbag) and makes for a pretty interesting talking point in job interviews. Anyway, I mentioned before that talked about this to my mentor and his colleague. Well it transpires that Alan (the colleague) was so intrigued as to whether or not I would ever be able to see my asteroid, that he went away and looked it up. And then he delved a little deeper and worked out when and where it will be visible from Earth. And then he realised that this corresponded perfectly with a telescope time slot and location that he will be using at the end of the month. So, THEY ARE GOING TO TAKE IMAGES OF MY ASTEROID FOR ME!!! HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?!

I still haven’t quite got over how amazing this is! I just thought that I would never actually ever get to see my asteroid (it’s much too dim to see with the naked eye, binoculars or even most small telescopes at night) and now, the people from Fermilab and a professor from some university are going to use up their valuable observing time to takes photos of it for me! If the images are good enough, we should be able to perform photometric analysis on them to determine exactly what my minor planet is composed of. Wow. I am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that it’s a clear sky at the observatory that night!

Woohoo! Go Hawks! Go By-fugly-en!

So I just watched the Chicago Hawks win the ‘series’ (not quite sure what that is, but it seemed to be a pretty big deal…). Everybody in the bar and then driving down the road we walked home on was going nuts! Apparently there may even be some sort of parade in Chicago this weekend because they won, so I’ll have to try to check that out.

I spent this morning at work going through the online tutorials on python and generally trying to revise my first year astronomy course – I am alarmed at how much I have managed to wipe from my memory since sitting that exam! I wanted to make sure my knowledge on distance measurement, standard candles and supernovae was up to scratch, as well as learning a bit about baryonic acoustic oscillations (these can be used as another standard astronomical ‘ruler’).

After lunch we the first of our weekly meetings with all of the interns and the two guys who run the internships at Fermilab: Rodger Dixon and Erik Ramberg. They were reassuringly approachable and more than happy to answer any questions we had and generally just help out. It was also a great opportunity to hear what projects everyone else is working on; although I do appear to have drawn the short straw with my one slightly. Quite how a physics student with an interest in particle physics and very little programming knowledge or experience has ended up writing code for an astronomical survey, I’m not sure… I would much have preferred to be assigned to one of the other projects in experimental particle or accelerator physics, but I guess I’d better not look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially one that has provided me with free accommodation, a swimming pool, a car, an ample weekly wage and a fantastic-looking new addition to my CV.

Everything is bigger in America

And not just the food! Although the portion sizes are HUGE (I’ve not quite embraced the ‘doggy bag’ culture, yet, but I’m working on it…) The roads to work are all at least dual carriageways, most of them have three or four lanes on each side; as far as I’m concerned, most of the cars look like monster trucks; and even the raindrops are massive. When we went to the supermarket for the first time on Monday, it started to chuck it down as we left – we got absolutely soaked just running from the shop to the car! And when we got in, the raindrops on the windscreen were basically the size of puddles…

Fermilab is intimidatingly large. The site covers over 6800 acres and some of the buildings are a good 5-10 minute drive from each other. There is even a field with a heard of buffalo in it. Yeah, it’s THAT big.

We spent Monday morning going through ‘orientation’, which was evidently a euphemism for ‘please come in early so you can fill in even more paperwork’. The afternoon was spent going through the various safety talks and a video on recognising and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace; i.e. we spent four hours sitting through presentations on common sense so that we wouldn’t be able to try to sue the US government if anything went awry whilst we were working here. On the plus side, I got to sample the delights of the Fermilab canteen (again, ridiculous amounts of choice and huge portions) and discovered that at 3.30 every day, there is free coffee and cookies! If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog entries, you’ll know that my priorities lie with food, so, needless to say, I was very happy.

I got to meet my mentor, Douglas Tucker, for the first time after the cookie break. He had a colleague visiting from an American university (I can’t remember which one, or the guy’s last name, but I do remember that he was called Alan…) who also stayed to chat to me. I got shown my desk (I have a great view out to the west) and then we sat and talked about what I’ll be doing this summer and also a bit about what previous physics I’ve done (they were very interested in my success at the Intel ISEF and my asteroid). It looks like I’ll start off doing Douglas’s dirty work by learning a coding language called Python, so that I can patch together pieces of code, which he has already written but not joined together yet, for real-time analysis of data. I get the distinct impression that this sounds a lot easier than it will actually be to do… If I manage to get that done, then I can maybe run simulations to determine optimal strategies for calibrating the Dark Energy Survey, with code that has already been written.

The Dark Energy Survey (DES) is an imaging survey of about one-quarter of the sky in the southern hemisphere using a new astronomical imaging camera on the 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. The DES will be used to measure properties of dark energy - a force which counteracts gravity and constitutes about 70% of the total mass-energy density of the Universe. It's not scheduled to start until the end of 2011, but there is preparatory work to be done, some of it involving imaging data that will be obtained at CTIO in July and August of this year.


I made it to the Windy City! But have only just been connected to the internet so here come a lot of posts (I’ve been typing them up on my laptop in the evenings and waiting to post them all).

Flying into O’Hare over Lake Michigan was fantastic – I had a window seat so was treated to a wonderful view of Chicago. I could make out the Sears Tower, Navy Pier and Grant Park, as well as spotting some of the larger beaches along the coast. I can’t wait to explore what looks and sounds like a fascinating city!

I’m staying in Naperville, which is about 40 miles from the centre of Chicago and a fifteen-minute drive from Fermilab – this is where I will be working for the next 10 weeks. I’m not quite sure exactly what my internship will entail, but I’m working under the supervision of Douglas Tucker, who works on the Dark Energy Survey. More on that later.

The apartments they have put the interns in are great – they are a decent size and, most importantly, have massive walk-in wardrobes :) All the better to store my future purchases in! Our blocks of apartments are clustered around the ‘club house’, which has a gym AND a pool. Result. And we’re dead close to lots of shops, supermarkets and restaurants. Including three drive through (I still can’t quite bear to write it as “thru”) pharmacies, two drive through Starbucks and a drive through bank. Honestly, I don’t think anyone around here walks anywhere!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Crunch time

I just emailed CERN and turned down their offer. So Fermilab it is!

Now I just need to get a US visa. Easier said than done, I feel...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

I'm in a pickle

So I just found out that I got onto the CERN Summer Student Programme too.

Now I have to choose between working at CERN or Fermilab over the summer.

Easy. Not.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Science For Careers: Report Published

My group's report went live today! The interactive BIS website has an embedded version which you can read online, although if you have a slow internet connection, this page takes ridiculously long to load. The pdf file of the report can be viewed directly here (1MB pdf file) and the Group Chair Diana Garnham's letter to BIS about the report can be seen here (13.6 KB pdf file).

Just in case you were wondering, my box is on p12 and also in the appendix on p41 (that one is my original version, before Cate added my comment about getting emails...). Check it out!

EDIT: Diana discusses the key points from our report here, as well as mentioning the prospect of a "Hidden Science - Hidden Scientists" event, scheduled for this summer, when scientists can come 'out the closet'. With any luck that event will happen, even with the change of government, as the idea sounded really good in our last meeting.

Change of plan

Chicago here I come!

So I've officially accepted my place on the Intership for Physics Majors (IPM) programme at Fermilab for summer 2010. Slight change of plan from working on the trading floor at RBS in the City... In fact, it's not really sunk in that I'll be spending 10 weeks working in the US of A yet. I'm not even sure what I'll be doing - I don't get assigned to a research group/project until much closer my starting date of June 7th. I'll still be experiencing work in the Big Smoke - I've lined up a 6 week internship with Promontory Finance in London, which starts as soon as I finish up at Fermilab. I'll most likely be working on some anti-money laundering stuff when I'm there (in between hitting up Topshop and Sketch every weekend...).

I'm going to be busy busy busy this summer! It's better that way: I get bored far too easily and can't stand sitting around for too long :)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


I returned home from London with two internships under my belt - RBS GBM Markets (sales, trading and structuring) and Promontory Finance (risk management) - and was hoping to squeeze both of them into my summer holidays without any major problems.

That was until Fermilab emailed me this afternoon. I got their internship too.

My instant thought? CRAP. What am I meant to do now?!

Here's what I'm trying to work out now: I don't think I want to go into research, so I should take the finance internships if I want to go into finance. But then I might really enjoy working in Fermilab over the summer. And I could still probably fit in 6 weeks with Promontory after coming back from the US. But that means turning down RBS. And I might want to do RBS's graduate programme. So I should do the RBS internship to ensure I stay on speaking terms with them. But then if I decide not to go into finance, having the experience at Fermilab would really enrich my CV.

Can you see why I'm confused? I've already emailed one of the guys at RBS (he was one of my interviewers and got in touch after my assessment centre to congratulate me) who phoned me back this evening to give me some advice. It was helpful and reassuring to hear his point of view, but I'm still torn between RBS and Fermilab. I guess I'll sleep on it...

EDI -> LHR ; KingsX -> Waverley

It now feels like a very long time ago, but here's what went down in London town at the end of January:

Wednesday 27th
Headed down south for my RBS assessment centre on the 06:30 flight, driving past RBS's "head"quarters at four in the morning... Don't see why they can't do some of their assessment centres in Edinburgh; it would have made my life a lot easier! Shame all the trading floors are in the City... Got into central London in time for two large coffees and a sandwich before heading to New Broad Street.

I walked in to be greeted by a small sea of black suits - I was one of only two girls out of a group of twenty students. They wasted absolutely no time in getting started and sent us off in two separate groups. My first exercise was to review four financial/business opinion pieces and make a five-minute presentation (including a poster) for my 'boss', in 40 minutes. Yes, you heard me, I had to read four two-page newspaper articles and make a five minute presentation in the space of forty minutes. I then went straight into my first 30 minute one-on-one interview to give my presentation and then have a Q&A session with my interviewer. Swiftly followed by another two 30 minute interviews, a 40 minute data-analysis test and then a 30 minute numerical-analysis test. I didn't even have time to go to the toilet (I had to sacrifice some of my test time to go and spend a penny!).

As expected, I much preferred the interview section of the day to anything else. Two out of three of my interviewers were really friendly and nice to chat to. I got asked some absolute corkers though:
What is 7! (seven factorial)?
What is the square root of this? (All mental arithmetic, I should add...)
How many trees are there in Canada?
How many piano teachers are there in London?
Thankfully, I have done these type of 'brain teasers' before so wasn't too taken aback!

We then got a wee tour of one of the trading floors in their Broadstreet office. IT WAS HUGE. I couldn't quite believe the scale of this place compared to the trading floor in Tokyo, which at the time I had thought was quite big!

After being awake from 4am and enduring five and a half hours of assessment centre, I could barely speak. So my mum and I (she had come down with me for some retail therapy) headed off to China Town for some good grub.

Thursday 28th
Headed to Promontory Finance Group's London office in Devonshire Square to say 'hi' to the team there. I got to meet pretty much everyone who works in the office (currently a small team of 10 people, although they are looking to expand to about 40 this year) and they were more than welcoming. The risk management based consultancy work that they do sounds really interesting and varied and they seem like a fantastic company to work for.

I then hopped on the tube to Westminster, avoiding all the non-existant extra security in place for the Chilcot Enquiry (there was one helicopter hovering overhead, that was it) and made it in plenty time for my Expert Group Meeting. We spend the vast majority of the meeting going over the fianl draft report, working out how it was going to be formatted, which bits to emphasise and which bits to discard. A few of us, myself included, have written 'example boxes' to add some personal anecdotes. Hopefully, it will be published quite soon - I will be sure to post links on here when it goes live.

After the meeting, I met up with my mum to wander around Liberty for far too long, and we then headed for dinner at Joe Allen's (my 'old' favourite place in London).

Friday 29th
My day off! This was my opportunity to buy all the things from Topshop Oxford Street that aren't available in the Edinburgh shop :)

After getting in a fair amount of shopping, we headed to Sketch on Conduit Street for some afternoon tea. This was quite possibly one of the best ideas my mother and I have ever had. The place is out of this world! It is my new favourite place in London. The building was recently bought-over and renovated into four different restaurants and an art gallery (if you watched the most recent series of 'Master Chef: The Professionals' it featured in one episode). The whole place is so eclectic and surreal that you half expect a member of Cirque du Soleil to cartwheel down the entrance hall as you wait to be seated in 'The Parlour' (and, after soaking up the atmosphere and decor for five minutes, you wouldn't be the least bit perturbed if they actually did...). The afternoon tea was delicious and very reasonably priced for what we got:

I am very aware that this is turning into a food blog again, but it was too good not to mention!

The attention to detail in this place is second to none and no effort has been spared anywhere - not even in the toilets, which are Swarovski-crystal and glass-bead encrusted. This sculpture was just chilling outside the Ladies:

Needless to say, we got so carried away by it all that we ended up missing our train home. Oops.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Science For All: Report Published

The Science For All Expert Group recently published their report; here's the pdf and the press release. Our group has almost finished with ours and it should hopefully be published in time for National Science Week, which starts on 11th March. I'm in the process of writing a wee 'example box' to go in it.

I promise to get round to writing up how I got on in London at my interviews and meeting when I have some free time (maybe tomorrow morning if I get up before lunchtime...).

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Science and the Media: Report Published

One of the other Expert Groups have just published their report, which can be found here, along with a summary of the group's actions and recommendations.

Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, responded on behalf of BIS, saying:

“I'm very grateful to Fiona and her group for producing this Action Plan. The quality of journalism by the UK's specialist press is excellent, so it's great these actions are targeted at protecting and building on it.

The plan contains a number of initiatives to raise the profile of science journalism and programming and improve their operating environment.

I'm particularly pleased by how many organisations, from the BBC to the Wellcome Trust and RCUK, have committed to actions. Government will now consider the proposed actions and recommendations.”

I'll post more about my group's report after our next meeting (as it's not been published yet, I'm not sure how much I'm meant to share...).

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Where's Holly?

I’ve been getting it in the neck from my family as to why I’ve not been keeping up with this blog and, to be honest, I don’t really know why I never kept up posting after coming back to Scotland. So, lets get back into the swing of things and start writing about what I’ve been getting up to – there’s no time like the present (and I am bored revising for exams…).

Upon returning home from Japan, I had just under two weeks to relax and get over my jet-lag before going back to university for the fourth year of my physics degree. During Freshers’ Week, I popped over to Glasgow one evening for a gathering of all the SaltireFoundation interns. It was really nice to swap stories with everyone.

This year, I signed up for evening classes in Japanese (I’ve just finished the first semester’s worth) as I really hope to go back to Japan one day soon, and having a better grasp of the language would certainly help!

Starting in the final week of September, I have been flying down to London to attend bi-monthly meetings as a member of the Science For Careers Expert Group. We meet to discuss the future of education, careers advice and careers available in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and then pass our results/findings onto Lord Mandelson for government to act on accordingly. The group (which is chaired by Diana Garnham and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) wrote a draft report on what we’d been getting up to at the end of December. I’ve got another meeting in a few weeks, so it will be interesting to hear how well it went down…

In November, I almost went to Paris for an Intel ISEF affiliated event but, unfortunately, the week before I was due to go, Intel got fined in excess of £1 billion, which meant they couldn’t afford to send me. Boo hoo. Hopefully I might get to go next year if they aren’t too poor.

I spent most of December filling in ridiculous numbers of application forms and updating my CV to try to bag myself an internship for summer 2010. Currently, I’ve applied for two completely different fields:

1) Particle Physics Research
I thought I’d try my hand at applying to CERN and Fermilab again this year, in the hope that they might say yes if I keep pestering them. On the other hand, if they keep saying no, I’ll take the hint…

2) Finance
I undertook the mammoth task of completing the online application forms for analyst (sales and trading with maybe a bit of structuring thrown in) positions with RBS, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan at their London or New York offices. I’ve got my assessment centre for RBS in London at the end of the month, so wish me luck! After speaking to the careers advisor in St Andrews, I also had my CV passed on to the London office of Promontory Finance, with the aim of working in Risk Management. I heard back from them this morning and, quite amazingly, they have offered me a summer internship! I’ve made plans to go to their office and say ‘hi’ whilst I’m down in London to find out what exactly working with them would entail.

In between all this gallivanting, I have, of course, been studying and trying to end up with a physics degree. I’ve just finished my first semester of fourth year classes (scary stuff, I know…) and am in the middle of revising for my exams that are on Thursday, Saturday and Monday. This semester hasn’t been as enjoyable as previous years’, and I can’t quite put my finger on why… It could be that it was a bit of a come-down getting back to studying after being in Tokyo, or the fact that the labs aren’t as interesting, or that some bits of my modules (non-linear optics & optoelectronics, laser physics, atomic physics) were a bit of a drag, or possibly all of the above. Regardless, I’ll stick it out and see what happens.

And there you have it; a whistle-stop tour of the last 4(ish) months of my life.