A collaborative physics program that became a scientific reboot

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At the end of May this year, I was scrambling to find summer clothing. I was headed to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where a program entitled “ScAmp” had begun. ScAmp was organised to gather all the physicists who work on scattering amplitudes, which refers to how experiments are done in particle physics. Particles are crashed into each other at high energies, and the ensuing pattern of what scatters off to where allows us to work out what their properties are. Theoretical physicists do this by calculating the amplitude, or probability, of certain reactions happening. KITP regularly organises gatherings of this kind in order to encourage collaboration and innovation.

I arrived, hired a glorious gigantic zebra-printed beach cruiser bicycle, and was soon at work in a salmon-coloured cottage-style office on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. I had thought it would be dry and arid, but there was this amazing smell from countless flowerbeds. The campus bricks were so bright, and the sun’s warmth lifted me instantly. My little office overlooked a courtyard with crazy outsize artwork hanging from the roof. To my delight, the other PhDs in my office included a woman. This may sound silly, but after two years in the field it was the first time I had met a female ScAmp PhD.

Initially, KITP seemed very intimidating. I had seen or briefly met many of the other academics before at conferences, and knew many of them were very senior – it was scary to initiate conversations about physics when I knew so little compared to them. Gradually my confidence built and I practiced talking about science. The most important thing I learnt was that when I had no idea what is being talked about, to ask a question, no matter how scary it seems! There were lots of fascinating talks, covering a massive variety of areas. There were also some researchers there who were able to help with my current project, which hopes to use spinors to explain higher dimensional gravity.

After work, the other junior researchers and I played ping pong and did elaborate barbecues at the fancy KITP residence, then explored downtown Santa Barbara. One weekend, we drove for five blisteringly hot hours in an elderly convertible to camp in King’s Canyon National Park. We saw the Milky Way and the beautiful mountains. I was staying with a wonderful couple who taught me about kombucha. I swam in the ocean and luxuriated in wearing shorts!

While I was at KITP, my supervisor’s encouragement to socialise and form connections was invaluable to remind me about the importance of talking about science. After a while, I even began to enjoy it! After the month, I realised my energy was higher and my mood better than it had been for ages. I have learnt a great deal and hope that my future research will reflect this.

‘Addressing the Unaddressed’ in Kolkata, India

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This June I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Kolkata in India as part of my undergraduate dissertation research. I travelled to Kolkata to work with ‘Addressing the Unaddressed’, an organisation that allocates postal addresses to slum dwellers. The hope is that, using these geolocational codes, they will then be able to receive mail, open a bank account, register to vote, and more besides. During my time in India, I followed the team in their day-to-day work and was able to learn about how they run this NGO. I will then go on to use this information to write 12,000 words about a human geographical aspect that interests me to hand in April 2018.

Though before I left I was worried about being lonely and feeling unsafe, I found that the city was manageable and eventually started to feel comfortable and familiar. Luckily, after a week alone, I was able to stay in a flat with volunteers from another charity which made my time in Kolkata a lot easier. I found it very difficult to work in an office with the locals as cultural differences and language barriers massively challenged me. However, I do believe that the experience was extremely valuable to me and has made me a more patient and understanding person.

I am so grateful to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for their help and the grant I received, it was massively helpful and so much appreciated.










Twelve Days of Cultural Sensitivity Training (a.k.a 10 Minutes ‘British Time’ does not equal 10 Minutes ‘German Time’)

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I was fortunate enough to be awarded a grant by the PGAF in order to attend the University of Bonn’s Developmental Policy summer school. I was one of 30 other students from all around the world to partake in this opportunity, where Australia was the only continent not represented in the class. It certainly was interesting seeing a mixture of diverse people learning about developmental policy in a German context. Cultural differences became apparent, one of which included the surprising subjectivity of time.

The structure of the programme was quite intense with usually three lectures a day that were around 2-3 hours long, which depended on if the lecture was module or a guest speaker lecture. Consequently you grew to know your classmates very well, very quickly! There were also four exciting excursions during the two weeks: UN Campus, GIZ and BMZ in Bonn, as well as the European Parliament and Commission in Brussels. On the whole, the summer school was worthwhile and I’m glad I was able to go . Bonn is a lovely little city where I met a lot of new friends that I hope to see again!


Tuesday Day 2 – Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development / Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ)




Wednesday Day 3 -German Corporation for International Cooperation / Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH: Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ)




Friday Day 5 – UN-Campus




Wednesday Day 10 – European Commission and Parliament





Pictures of city from the UN-Campus!



APEX 5 – Bolivia 2017

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This summer I spent four weeks in South America, beginning in Bolivia with the APEX 5 expedition team. Organised by six medical students, I was one of twenty-nine volunteers partaking in multiple studies, aiming to gain a better understanding of the effects of altitude on human physiology. The group started by acclimatising in La Paz – immediately taking advantage of the free time we had to explore the highest capital city in the world. Among other things, I found myself in the local witch’s market and ‘receiving the sun’ at Tiwanaku, an ancient temple, during the local winter solstice ceremony.

Shortly thereafter we travelled to Huayna Potosí, a mountain in the Bolivian Andes, spending a week at the 4800m base camp where we had to acclimatise to not only the altitude but also to ‘baby-wipe showers’ and toilets that were flushed using a bucket of water. Although I wouldn’t describe our accommodation as paradise, I had an amazing time getting to know the rest of the team and honing my card game skills. Surprisingly, keeping ourselves entertained for the week proved not to be too difficult and it was very serene to be completely disconnected from the rest of society in such a beautiful place.

Before travelling one of my main worries was how I would be effected by the altitude. During past expeditions, volunteers have had to be evacuated due to severe developments of attitude sickness, and although we were accompanied by two very skilled doctors and many safety measures had been put into place, making me more at ease, this was still a concern of mine. Due to weather conditions, we ended up at a lower altitude on a different mountain to that which was originally planned and so it was unlikely that anyone would become extremely ill. I luckily managed to get through the week, suffering no more than a mild headache or two, making the entire experience much more enjoyable than I imagine it would have been otherwise.

Being a part of such interesting work really piqued my interest in medical research and I learnt many skills that will be invaluable as I head into intercalation next year, where I may possibly be conducting my own laboratory research.

During my time in Bolivia and Peru I found myself immersed in an amazing culture, unlike anything I have experienced before. I have always loved to travel and crossing the world to South America has added another place to my list of those to come back to and fuelled my desire to see even more of the world. Being part of the APEX expedition was an amazing way to see medicine in action, outside of a hospital and allows me to imagine a future where I can combine travelling across the world with my career.

Astana EXPO-2017

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World’s fairs have always been platforms for the state-of-the-art science and technology displays from around the globe forecasting a better future for society. EXPO 2017 which opened on June 10th in Astana, Kazakhstan was no exception. The expo’s theme was “Future Energy”, and aims to create a global debate between countries, nongovernmental organisations, companies and the general public on the crucial question: “How do we ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing CO2 emissions?”

115 states and 22 international organisations were presented during the EXPO 2017. The architectural symbol of the Astana EXPO-2017 Exhibition was the central element of the Exhibition Complex: Nur Alem. It will be the world’s largest spherical building with the diameter of 80 and height of 100 meters. Visitors were able to acquaint themselves with the history, culture, traditions, places of interest and also recent achievements of Kazakhstan as well as they were able to see the Museum of Future. It was an innovation hub which combined important research and culture center.

The international pavilions were located along the outer perimeter of the Exhibition Complex. The circular arrangement allowed even distribution of visitors’ flows and assuring of equal access to the participant countries’ pavilions situated in 14 U-shaped buildings combined into 4 large clusters. The international pavilions were linked with the thematic ones by the Circular Boulevard where Daily Show-Parades, art performances and installations were held.

I was able to discover the latest developments in renewable energy industries from wind, solar and biomass to space, sun and kinetic energy in several national and corporate pavilions, including the designated Best Practice Area that hosts 24 projects from 13 countries selected by a committee of Nobel laureates and climate experts. Among the ideas generating media buzz were Solar Impulse, a Swiss solar-powered aircraft, Glowee which was a French project to bring a biological source of light using marine microorganisms, and the Bioo device (USA) that generates electricity from garden plants’ photosynthesis. Unfortunately, it was lost opportunity for USA to improve its reputation. On the other hand Austria surprised all the visitors. It’s colourful—a human-powered kinetic sculpture, was one of the other popular exhibits.

There was a contradiction at the core of Expo 2017. Visitors were dazzled with the Dubai-wanna-be skyline of Astana while contemplating Expo 2017’s theme, “Future Energy”; but ultimately Astana is a city that oil built and Kazakhstan remains a country firmly married to conventional energy industries.










Achieving debating success in Estonia

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My Go Abroad experience might be a little unconventional. I spent a week in Tallinn, Estonia, along with seven other Edinburgh students, competing at the European Universities Debating Championships, representing the Edinburgh University Debates Union. Last year, also supported by the PGAF, my partner Katie and I went to Warsaw and reached the partial quarter-finals, coming away as the twenty-second ranked team at the competition. This year, my partner Nish and I came away as the fourth-ranked team in Europe, reaching the quarter-finals after nine rounds of debating in three days.

We became intimately acquainted with the Estonian medical system in an unexpected way, quite early on. An Edinburgh team bonding exercise went horrible awry. First, the smaller members of each team had a piggy-back race, carrying the larger members. This was fine. Nish, who stands a number of inches shorter than my 6’3” frame, and weighs literally half of me, managed to carry us to victory (much as he proceeded to do in the tournament itself). When the roles were reversed, a promising start went terribly wrong: I pitched forward, sending Nish flying over my shoulders and directly into the ground. One ER trip and six stitches to the face later, he was still able to compete (and ended up the 8th best speaker in Europe), but it was a close-run thing. Lesson: always get insurance, and always take your EHIC card. You never know when you might need it.


The Edinburgh contingent, pre-accident

Over the course of the competition, we learned a number of things. First, Estonian prices are not as low as you might expect, particularly in Tallinn. Expect to be paying similar amounts to what you would in the UK, especially when you factor in the dismal Euro exchange rate.

As far as transport goes, Uber is incredibly cheap, very safe, and easily available. It’ll cost you €3-4 for a half hour trip most of the time, which is cheaper than public transport (and you don’t even have to be able to read Estonian).

We didn’t get as much of a chance to see all of Tallinn as we might have liked, but we did experience all the saunas that we were able to. If you go to Estonia, get in a sauna and stay there. It’s excellent.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the food in Estonia is fine, but it’s nothing incredible, and it’s not cheap. If you travel there and are able to cook for yourself, it’s probably a better option.

The whole Edinburgh Euros contingent had an excellent time, and we’re incredibly grateful to the PGAF for allowing us to debate at the highest level for another year. Hopefully next year we’ll win the whole thing.

Researching in Tanzania

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Returning to Tanzania two years later was an exciting and interesting experience I had been a volunteer on the ICS programme after finishing my undergraduate studies and had lived in a rural part of Southern Tanzania for 3 months in 2015. In May 2017 I was back to carry out research for my dissertation which was to be based at a research organisation in Dar es Salaam. This experience was quite different, firstly I was travelling by myself and responsible for finding my way around and setting up accommodation- I made use of some familiar services such as airbnb and uber and found them to be quite helpful as I sought to settle in. Secondly, I was now based in the capital city and was conducting my own primary research on the gold mining industry.

The task seemed daunting as I set about contacting people I’d like to interview and often felt I was going round in circles as I read article after article but struggled to get a grip on a research angle that I could feasibly take with the resources and time that I had. I set about making a list of those companies that I could find who supplied the large scale mining sector as well as the mining companies themselves and relevant industry organisations and government ministries. The head of strategic research from the ESRF informed me that the protocol here was to go to the offices of such organisations with a letter that explained who I was and what I was doing and then seek to arrange appointments from there.

I was very grateful for the support of the ESRF as it meant I was able to meet more individuals from the government and the private sector which I don’t think would have been possible if I was on my own. It also allowed me to see what working life was like in a research organisation- I met many recent graduates who had studied at the University of Dar es Salaam and who now were using their skills to carry out important research that could influence government policy in Tanzania. I felt that I was visiting at a very interesting time and I enjoyed talking to the ESRF staff and others that I met about their perspectives on the current government and particularly how the President was now approaching the foreign owned mining industry which my research was focused on.

My experience overall showed me the difficulties of working in a new environment where I didn’t have friends or family close by and I wasn’t working in a team of volunteers who were all in the same boat. However by challenging myself to go and carry out fieldwork in Tanzania I was able to meet so many passionate and hardworking people, and learn a lot about the different experiences of others. I believe this will ensure that now I have returned home and I have finished my MSc I won’t forget about who I met, the experiences I had and the inequality I saw and ultimately I know it will continue to inspire me to try to make positive change in the world.

Doris Oksana and I


Outside the ESRF

Human Rights Work in Panama

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For the last 6 years I have been interested in legal and human rights in developing countries. I have tried through being involved with a variety of charities to do my bit to help, however I decided that this year I should stop hiding behind yearly donations and charitable fundraisers and got involved

In June I had the humbling opportunity to volunteer with Global Brigades Human Rights Chapter in panama. Throughout the week I had the opportunity to shadow a Panamanian Human rights lawyer while providing legal assistance at a pro-bono clinic in Panama, run workshops in the local community school on anti-bullying, take on a local family’s case and help with the paperwork and legal formalities of their case over the course of the brigade, and hear talked from local governmental organisations such as the SCENIEF (the Panamanian version of social workers) and they mayor. This wonderful opportunity gave me the personal experience of being there and able to help families first hand, forming the connections and seeing how even my limited legal knowledge and Spanish can help others.

Before leaving Edinburgh, I was faced with a few worries that would just keep circling my mind, first- I’m not familiar with Panamanian law, how am I meant to help people when I don’t know the legal system? And second, this was going to be my first ‘official’ legal work experience, what if it turns out I wasn’t cut out to be any kind of lawyer?
So, as you can imagine I was anxious when I boarded the flight (well two ) but after arriving in Panama, getting the briefing from the man in charge of our brigade these worries dissolved. We were given booklets giving us a brief introduction into Panamanian law, and the most relevant legal statues. So, with those in hand it was just a case of finding out what applied in each case when we heard them- same as it would be in Scotland.

As for being cut out to be a lawyer? Well, personally, I felt I was. I learnt fist hand that sometimes, however robotic it may seem, you have to switch off your emotions to clearly work out the best way to help the client. You can’t be sucked in by the ‘drama’ surrounding the case, the first though when hearing problems should not be “this sounds like something off a telanovella” (which sadly at the start of the week was one of my first thoughts). Thankfully by the end of the week I had gained a more professional mindset of how to cope in those situations

Over the course of the week listening to the local Latino and Indigenous communities’ stories and witnessing their hospitality to complete strangers was immensely inspiring. Human Rights is an issue that can bind communities together that cannot even speak the same language- injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.








India gave me Strength, Love and Luck

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For four weeks I was based in Mumbai, India, working for the National Institute of Securities Markets. Along with nine other interns we were conducting research into the Indian Finance Sector, which we had to present to the governing body at the end of our time with them. They provided us with immense hospitality and kindness by providing food and accommodation for us and encouraged us to explore what else India had to offer outside Mumbai. So this then took me to Rajasthan where I visited three incredible cities. Each of the cities I visited were represented by an animal which had a meaning; a horse for Udaipur representing Strength; a camel for Jaisalmer representing Love; and an elephant for Jaipur representing Luck.