“I feel like my intuition is much better now but I'm still learning new things all the time."
Becky Fair works in the Theoretical and Computational Physics group in STFC's Scientific Computing Department (SCD). She joined STFC on the graduate scheme after completing her degree in astrophysics at University of Liverpool, but she admits that she didn't always want to be a physicist. “When I was a child, I really loved the movie Jurassic Park, and because of that I wanted to be a palaeontologist".
When she got older, Becky felt unsure about her career path, so she chose to focus on the subjects she enjoyed most. “I took A-levels in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology, mostly because I hated writing essays!" The palaeontology idea fell by the wayside as she chose to do her degree in astrophysics, enjoying the practical applications that physics offered.
After graduating, she saw the STFC graduate scheme advertised online and thought it seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about programming, which she had become interested in at university. “Being able to apply programming to science seemed especially interesting," she says.
All staff on the SCD graduate scheme rotate around four six-month placements within SCD, as well as a three-month placement in another STFC department – for Becky this was the Particle Physics Department where she carried out GPU code development and optimisation.
During her training, Becky worked on a diverse range of projects including user interface development, database monitoring and fluid dynamics. Her work took her to a conference in Spain where she gained experience in public speaking. She has recently published a scientific paper based on her graduate placement work on fluid dynamics, which has applications in naval architecture and offshore oilrig design, amongst others.
Now Becky works in a permanent role on the PACE project, working with the Excitations group at the ISIS Neutron & Muon Source. Her project aims to lower the technological barriers for users to analyse their data. She says the most challenging part of her job is learning new science and turning it into code, a task that requires a deep and intuitive understanding of the underlying science.
"Before I started this role I knew very little about the experimental method (inelastic neutron scattering) and the thing being observed (phonons) so it's been a steep learning curve," she says. “I feel like my intuition is much better now but I'm still learning new things all the time."
As a research software engineer, she is developing code that will allow scientists to quickly and easily simulate their experiments, helping them make sense of their data. “I write code to predict what scientists will see in their experiments, so that when they actually do them they can understand the results and see if it's what they expect, or something completely new. The software I'm working on has been written from scratch, so it's great to watch it evolve into something that will be genuinely useful and enable excellent science."
Becky is glad she chose a science-based career, and would encourage others to do the same. “Even if you don't know exactly what you want to do you can't go wrong with STEM! There are so many varied opportunities available that eventually you'll stumble on what you want to do."
60 second sketch
Every member of staff that is profiled is asked to answer ten simple questions that we think will help you to get to know them better.
- What did you want to be when you were six years old?
- What was your favourite TV programme during childhood?
Anything on Discovery Kids (Popular Mechanics for Kids?)
- Who's your favourite scientist (dead or alive)?
- Where is your favourite place on Earth?
I don't think I have one
- What music do you like?
Generally rock/metal, but no specific sub-genre.
- If you could only take one luxury item to a desert island what would it be?
My phone (For music, not social media)
- Staycation or vacation?
- What book are you currently reading?
The last book I read was Mix Mir Einen Drink, but that was a while ago
- If you could be any animal, what would you be (and why)?
- What do you think is a healthy work life balance (do you achieve this)?
Don't think about work outside work (I achieve this most of the time)