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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: The science behind emerging technologies

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    08 Feb

    As I cycle to work every morning past Hills Road Sixth Form College, where I went to school 12 years ago, I watch floods of sixth form students pouring into the college and I think fondly back to where I started off my journey to become a Physicist.

    Physics was always the subject that I found by far the most interesting at school. Although most of my friends were applying for arts subjects I applied to study Physics at Bristol University, where I had the time of my life. On finishing my degree the options open to me weren’t obvious; my course mates all seemed to find jobs in banking or management consulting, but those jobs weren’t for me. My passion for physics was still very much alive and I wanted to use my degree in my job.

    After many ignored applications I finally landed myself an interview at a Cambridge-based product development company, Cambridge Consultants. My interview, although gruelling, was enlightening; I had no idea such companies existed. The business model is to provide scientific research and engineering expertise to clients who want to develop new products and technologies. The first year in my job was fairly terrifying; everyone seemed to be so intelligent. I have since learned it is normal to feel out of your depth in a new job. I also, unsurprisingly, found myself surrounded my men. I have never considered myself to be a “woman in science”, I think of myself only as a “scientist”. As such, I am treated as one by my male and female colleagues. There is, however, an obvious and jarring lack of female representation among our senior staff, which is a gap that is crying out to be filled.

    I now work as a Principle Physicist and I spend my time split between hands-on research in the lab and working on business development and client management. I am glad to say that I use my degree nearly every day. I have specialised particularly in optics; which crops up in all sorts of technologies from gas sensors to augmented reality. My favourite days are those spent in the lab when my experiment starts working and I can report back exciting results to my client. Happily, part of my job is also to travel to technology hubs such as San Francisco, Boston and Singapore.

    The field of emerging technologies is, in my view, the most exciting place to work today. The rapidly changing world is steered by revolutionary technologies and being able to both witness and contribute to the creation of these technologies is a privilege. The challenging part is to stay relevant in such a fast-paced environment. Small start-ups can overthrow big businesses that have been around for decades; we must embrace the power of technology and make sure that we contribute to positive changes in the world.

    Julia Greenwood
    Principle Physicist, Cambridge Consultants