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TingTing Chan

University of York

MPhys (Hons) Physics
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The Big Picture 

TingTing likes to keep her options open; “I was pretty much open minded. I applied for a lot of medical schools, and I applied for physics. But then I decided to take the Physics offer. I don’t know, it just led me down this weird path, but I feel like afterwards, I was like, Okay, yeah, good decision!”

Following the completion of her integrated Masters in Experimental Physics, TingTing joined Diamond Light Source as a Graduate Software Engineer based in Oxfordshire. “It’s a two year grad scheme, the first year I do 3-month placement, just to see the different groups, and then I’ll pick which group I want to go into for my second year for a year-long project. I’m in my third placement now, it’s going really fast! My first 2 were in Controls, and I was using Python, JavaScript, and like last week I was using C#. But I’m now within Scientific Information Management Systems, which is quite different.” 

“I didn’t realise how much flexibility the grad scheme would give me. I was really scared because I’m not a theoretical physicist, and I only had like a little bit of programming knowledge. They do treat the grad scheme as more of a learning opportunity before you go into a main role.”

The Company

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron. It works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines.

“So Controls help maintain the machines. Scientific Information Management Systems looks after the user side of things.” To ensure the scientists using Diamond Light Source’s facilities get the data out of their experiments that they need.

Day to Day

“We work in an open plan office but there’s also the opportunity to work at home 2 days a week. We have bi-weekly group meetings, and every day we have daily stand ups which means, what did you do yesterday, what are you planning to do today? It’s just a chance to see what everyone’s doing, and if anyone’s got stuck on something.”

“Didcot is an industrial town, and it’s quite small. So it’s nice and quiet and there’s a good rail network. It’s also quite close to work so I just cycle to work. There’s a lot of things going on in Diamond. Because we’re on the grad scheme, we have a lot of grad events. What was really nice was that when I first started in September there was a thing called the Graduate Away Day, which is just a day out that Diamond paid for; for the new grads and the grads in the cohort above, just to get to know each other and get to know the area. The cohort is quite small, like there’s 4 of us who joined in September. I feel like if it was a big cohort, it’s kind of hard to get to know each other, but because it’s a small one we know each other quite well”.

The Application Process 

“I was looking at Gradcraker and just looking at the physics roles available and because I was looking quite early it had a lot of grad schemes advertised. I wanted to stay within a science facility but I was also interested in software engineering. So I applied for this one and a few others in software engineering.”

“I think I applied around October time, and I got my offer in December. Diamond actually has quite a simple process. So it was just a CV, cover letter. And then I had one interview over Zoom, and that was basically it! It’s kind of weird, because now that I’m on the other side, I’ve helped out with the interview process for new grads! Now that lockdown’s over, they’re interviewing people for a whole day at Diamond. I think I got quite lucky because I’m a little bit introverted. So I think being on Zoom was better for me.”

“I did a few more applications for other science facilities. I actually gave up on some of my applications because Diamond gave me my offer really quickly. During my video interview at another company I completely messed it up! And I was like, Yeah, I’m pulling this one out!”

The Physics Connection

“I only did a bit of programming in my degree, but it did help because I was more familiar with syntax, so it helped ease me into it when I was still learning more here.”

The degree programme more generally provided TingTing with a strong background knowledge for the more specific placements on the graduate scheme. “And I also get to lead some of the Tours of Diamond and the physics knowledge really helps when I’m talking otherwise I’d be saying a lot of nonsense to visitors!” 

Any Advice?

“So my final year project was on quantum communications which is different to what I’m doing now. And I think I focused too much on the quantum side of things before I finally realised that I really like programming. I only did a very small set of programming things at uni. So I think just not being so fixated on one thing would be better. Moving into the job was a bit more nerve racking just because I thought, Okay, I’ve not done this. I don’t have enough experience with this.”

Next Steps

After completing the graduate programme TingTing is continuing with her philosophy of ‘see what happens’ “I think I would stay at Diamond. After the grad scheme you have a grade review meeting where you go off with some people in the group that you are in, but not your manager, supervisor, no one direct, and they interview you to see if you can move up into a permanent role”.

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