Diversity in physics is a multifaceted challenge

Many staff and students are keen on sharing their interest in science with the public.  Sarah-Jane Lonsdale has combined this interest while promoting the diversity of those studying and working in science.

“It was my gap year experience at the Royal Institution as a ‘Year in Industry’ student which was the main influence for my science communication and public engagement work.”

This experience led to her working with Pride in STEM, a charitable trust that works to promote and support those who identify as LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and other sexual and gender minorities) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. Sarah has been active in promoting the first international day celebrating LGBTQ+ people in STEM earlier this year.

Sarah was also nominated for the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize in recognition of her contribution to physics and work to support and encourage others in the field.

Sarah is a postgraduate student within the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics at the School of Physics and Astronomy, where she is investigating the neutron-induced destruction of Aluminium-26 in massive stars. She won a prestigious Principal’s Career Development Scholarship to pursue her studies at Edinburgh. Prior to this, she completed an MPhys research in Nuclear Astrophysics at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, USA.

A new chapter

University can be daunting. If you’re reading this you’ve been there. You know the anxious feeling you get before leaving almost everyone and everything you know. Nobody wants to leave their dog behind – wagging it’s tail – oblivious to the fact you might not come home again for months at a time.

I left home to fly up to Edinburgh on a rainy Monday afternoon. All I was sure of, is that I had a place at University and an Airbnb for a week. Was I scared? Sure. Was I worried? Absolutely.

I landed at Edinburgh airport, made my way to the taxi rank and stood in line. I thought they were all joking when they said Edinburgh is cold, windy and wet. I found this out the hard way hopping from foot to foot to keep warm.

Eventually I got to the front and was directed to the taxi. I hopped in and told him the address, not expecting him to talk to me too much. 5 seconds into the trip, he complained about students and how busy they were making the airport. Awkward. I laughed it off and told him I was a student. I’m not sure what it is about the Scottish accent, but that 20 minute conversation we were about to have completely relaxed me. The taxi driver (who shall remain nameless because I can’t remember his name) asked me all about my course, suggested some great beers and places to eat, told me all about the bus m-ticket system among other small talk.

We arrived, I got out and paid my fare. I stood there to open up Google Maps to find the Airbnb before a sudden wave of realisation washed over me. I hadn’t thought about how much I missed my family, or my dog, or even about the fact I still hadn’t got a place to live. This taxi driver – just acting how I assume he does every other day, selflessly helping out a newcomer to the country – had completely calmed my fears and anxieties. As I looked back to my phone, an email popped up as a banner across the top. My heart skipped a beat as my brain went into overdrive. “Tenancy of **** ****”. My palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy as I realised I had a flat to live in now. Everything was falling into place. Edinburgh wasn’t terrifying. I wasn’t scared. In hindsight, Edinburgh is one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever visited, with some of the most exciting opportunities I’ve ever had.

I’m not scared, I’m not alone, I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.

Luke Mitchell