R&I FRAMEWORKThe rise of a physicist

Only 24% of physics students in the UK were women from 2017-19, according to data from the Institute of Physics (IOP). This was lower than in most other STEM subjects during that time. What’s more, British Pakistani students were highly underrepresented in physics compared to other STEM subjects. The good news is that the IOP report indicated that the trends for greater representation of both women and South Asian students in physics have been positive. This is the story of one young woman aiming to blaze a trail in this subject area.

 

Surayyah, age 19, is determined to be part of the increasing number of  women from under represented groups in physics. She is currently in the last term of Sixth Form at Bordesley Green School, a state school in Birmingham. A bright and driven student, she’s preparing for a career either in quantum and particle physics or medical physics and is particularly interested in cancer therapy technology. She’s determined to show young people that ethnicity and sex should never prevent young people from achieving a career in science.

 

“I believe anyone has the capability to excel in the subject, regardless of gender, race or religion,” she says. “My desire to achieve my end goal is far more powerful than unjust words and blockades that society may place before me.”

“I believe anyone has the capability to excel in the subject, regardless of gender, race or religion,” she says. “My desire to achieve my end goal is far more powerful than unjust words and blockades that society may place before me.”

Interested in science from a young age, she has also shown strength in the subject at school.

 

“Since secondary school and through sixth form, I was inspired by my father and physics teacher to pursue a career in physics. I’ve always loved the thrill of solving a problem. I constantly endeavour to expand my knowledge, reading outside the classroom and watching YouTube channels.”

 

Impressed by her dedication to learning, her physics teacher Sandesh Dhaliwal pushed Surayyah to get involved in the Institute for Research in Schools’ (IRIS) project HiSPARC. As part of HiSPARC, students learn how to collect and decipher cosmic data using cosmic ray detectors. Surayyah’s research explored the possible origins of Ultra High Energy Cosmic Rays.

 

“Mr Dhaliwal has been an amazing support throughout school. I’ve always been able to go to him for support, which is usually in the form of a short prompt, or changing my perspective on a problem, rather than providing a solution straightaway. This help has been invaluable, as it has taught me to think for myself and be independent in my approach to applying knowledge to problems. He presents physics in a way where it is tangible and relatable.”

It has helped me to get a thorough feel of a complete academic research project, which will be really useful going ahead, as I wish to gain a PhD in a physics specialism.

Impressed by the quality of her research, IRIS is working with her to get it published.

 

“Surayyah has produced a high-quality piece of scientific work that would add to current knowledge on cosmic rays.” commented Dr Richard Phillips, Engagement and Original Research Lead for IRIS. “We look forward to working with her and her teacher over the next few months to get her research published in a scientific journal.”

 

While the prospect of being published is exciting, Surayyah found the research process equally as interesting. “I find working through creating my own models to prove or disprove my hypothesis thrilling.”

 

She says getting involved in scientific research has strengthened her self-confidence in being a woman of colour pursuing a career in physics. “It has helped me to get a thorough feel of a complete academic research project, which will be really useful going ahead, as I wish to gain a PhD in a physics specialism.”

 

“It allowed me to work on independent problem-solving skills within time constraints, as I did my IRIS project as part of EPQ.

With Surayyah’s talent and drive, she’s destined for a successful future in physics.

Collaborating with the IRIS team has reinforced her communications skills and provided an insight into working with academics.

 

“I really liked having Dr Phillips available to help me, whenever I felt that I needed a fresh perspective, and his replies were always quick and concise. Collaborating with IRIS was a really friendly experience, and I would definitely recommend IRIS projects to other students.”

 

“With Surayyah’s talent and drive, she’s destined for a successful future in physics, one of the many fields of science crying out for better representation. She’s already a superb role-model for any student considering a future in physics,” says Dr Phillips.

THE R&I FRAMEWORK

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