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Embedding Industry

into the Curriculum:

Medical Physics

The York WRIPA Team has been working with Medical Physics Module co-ordinator Dr Mikhail Bashkanov in the School for Physics Engineering and Technology (PET) at the University of York to embed industry and employability into the curriculum. A record number of York physicists taking this module have secured places on the NHS Scientist Training Programme

WRIPA embedded alumni into the module from across 5 different hospitals. The alumni talk about their journey on the NHS Scientist Training Programme, what they studied, why they took this path and where it has taken them. The alumni also talk to the students about the latest technologies in the medical arena.  “I found the guest lecturers really interesting as it was a great opportunity to hear from experts in the field.” Caitlin Brentnall Scientist Training Programme.

“Working with the WRIPA Team and their industry and alumni contacts has been invaluable in developing the links to enable these industry focussed elements of the module, helping students to translate rather abstract knowledge into employable skills.”  Dr Mikhail Bashkanov Medical Physics Module co-ordinator

This year, a record number of 10 physics students from the School of PET applied for the Scientist Training Programme (STP) and 6, who had an average medical physics module mark of 77%, have been successful! It is extremely challenging to secure a place on the STP which is is a three-year programme of work-based learning, supported by a university accredited master’s degree.

For the academic year 2023/24 the medical physics module will give students direct access to industry experience and employability information through the re-designed structure of the module. This includes:

  • Visits to MRI/PET, medical isotopes production, accelerator cancer treatment and other medical facilities
  • Real examples of Geant4 simulations
  • Industry lead ‘everyday’ medical physics
  • Course content delivered by GPs

Embedding alumni in the curriculum and industry experience such as the opportunities provided in this module are not only a great way to see if this type of industry is something students want to pursue but also provides great experience and skills development to showcase in recruitment application processes. Importantly, embedded industry in this way gives all students access to this learning experience as part of their studies. “Seeing the application of the physics I’d spent the previous two years learning in a medical context helped me to understand how I could use my skills in a career outside of academia.” Caitlin Brentnall

“We are looking forward to working with other Physics module leads to embed industry and employability elements directly into their module content to widen the opportunity for physics students to understand how their learning is applied in the workplace” Beth Medley WRIPA Student and Business Relationship Manager

James Bowler has been accepted on the Clinical Scientific Computing Scientist Training Programme. This follows his role directly after graduation at a company called Gamma, where he worked as a software engineer and as a business analyst in the telecommunications industry. James shares his experience of the medical physics module:
“This module significantly deepened my interest in medical physics and illuminated it as an incredibly appealing career path. Learning how all the physics I had learnt in the previous 2 years can be applied to improve and save lives was nothing short of amazing!

The module provided me with a core foundation of medical physics knowledge, which played a pivotal role in creating a competitive application and excelling in the interview process. It covered such a great variety of topics such as ultrasound scans, PET scans and ion beam therapy. I would not have been sufficiently prepared for the tough application process if I hadn’t have taken the module.

The Geant4 simulations were by far the most interesting and useful thing that I did in the module. We had to do a project that investigated a variety of different beam treatments, and it was fascinating to see the contrast between the different treatment options.”

Sarah Dignam has been accepted on the Scientist Training Programme and shares her experience of the medical physics module:

“Having already had an interest in Medical Physics before the third year module, the module allowed me to gain a better understanding of the specialisations of Medical Physics within the STP.
The module helped give me a much better general understanding of medical physics which allowed me to elaborate beyond the standard when answering interview questions. It also gave me the knowledge I needed to make my application essay stand out. 
The GEANT project provided the opportunity to learn vital skills in modelling which is used throughout the STP. Also the guest lectures helped give a more detailed picture about what it’s really like to work in health care.”

Student and Business Relationship Managers

The White Rose Industrial Physics Academy (WRIPA) is a collaboration between university physics departments in the North of England and businesses. It was created to provide physics students with the opportunity to gain graduate attributes and work experience that better prepares them for graduate-level technical employment. The outcome will be an increased number of physics graduates in technical careers.

In this WRIPA profile we talk to Dr Olga Fernholz, one of our Student and Business Relationship Managers. Olga has worked in this role at the University of Nottingham since 2017. Each university within the Academy has a Student and Business Relationship Manager such as Olga that students and industry can talk to directly.  

Linking students & industry

Olga explains that her role is centred around mentoring and careers support for physics students as well as business engagement; “these are two complementary roles: I have conversations with students about their strengths and interests and I know companies that employ physics graduates and so I link them up, and it also gives me more ideas and understanding of what physics students need to have professionally to be suited for a diversity of employment opportunities and that, subsequently, trickles into what we teach at the school. These activities enable a closer relationship between students, the industry and the school”.  

In Nottingham they have drawn on placement experience, best practice and processes used in the engineering department where industry placements are very much the norm. Olga comments that “The School of Engineering is a “behemoth” of placements at our university and the School of Physics and Astronomy was a late-comer to placements, but over the past few years there has been real cultural change and the importance of industry experience is fully recognised and appreciated at the School.” Olga uses a digital platform – Mahara – to keep in touch with students on placements and keep an eye on their progress. This online portfolio software allows students to keep their reflective log (part of the year in industry assessment), which allows students to log their learning, the ups and down of the placement and most importantly, to keep in touch with other placement students in their cohort, see where they are and share their experience.

Olga reflects: “There’s such value in the year-long experience to our students from exposing oneself to an environment with a different set of responsibilities and challenges, from interacting closely with experts in the team, adjusting to the pace of a business organisation, to discovering one’s professional strengths and seeing broader opportunities for the future.”

Like all universities, the University of Nottingham has a useful central careers service providing general support for all students. Olga explains that when the year in industry programme was introduced within Physics, a dedicated role to manage and boost industrial placements for physics students was established. As well as arranging the placements through industry links, Olga now also runs a diverse range of events, for example a ‘Placement Kickstart’ event at the beginning of an academic year, and a dedicated careers physics week for the final year students early on in the year. Students can also make use of the WRIPA organised physics-focused recruitment and placements fair that takes place each October. Olga’s dedicated role within the School of Physics and Astronomy means she can connect  industry to the School. Developing these industry partners has many benefits from  arranging more physics specific placements, and summer internships, organising summer research projects in the school and supporting students through recruitment processes.

The benefit of a great alumni

The Physics Future event that Olga leads brings in Nottingham physics alumni to the school to talk to current physics students. Alumni showcase the vast diversity of jobs and career paths that someone with a physics degree can take. It is an exciting event where alumni at different career levels and from various industrial areas, with different strengths and set of professional competencies come to share stories about their decisions, and the chance and circumstance that played out to shape their career. Olga reflects on the event from March 2023: “the way we do that is via round table discussions with two alumni per table we ask alumni to take turns and give a 2 minute pitch about their career and how they got there. There are no power point presentations, no ‘one way’ talks, only relatable stories and discussions that unpack decisions and steps that have led to where they are now professionally, with a reflection on how a physics degree enabled that. There is networking afterwards and the student engagement is always great. One alumnus, representing an academic teaching path and who is now a lecturer said “I cannot remember when I talked to students that much!”  

Making such connections is one opportunity for students to engage with business via an alumni connection. Other opportunities exist such as the LinkedIn Nottingham Physics Alumni group facilitated by Olga. Olga explains; “such events and platforms allow students to connect with people outside of their usual social bubble in a supported manner.” Olga feels this is achieved so successfully by avoiding unnecessary formalisation and allows students to explore career paths they didn’t know existed, learning to connect and engage with new people, and generally building networking and social skills. This is supported further by information provided on the Nottingham dedicated sub webpage as well as the WRIPA Website

“Students have a great opportunity to hear the human stories behind the careers from people who were in their shoes a few years ago. For example, it’s actually quite normal to not be sure where your individual journey will take you! It’s invaluable to have this wider network beyond an individual university to share knowledge, ideas, information with a group of people who are not your immediate contacts”. Moving outside of their ‘normal’ information bubble and linking into new information bubbles encourages students to actively look for knowledge. The benefit might not be immediate, but it provides stepping stones to find out where they want to be and potential directions of travel. 

Another benefit of the dedicated Student and Business Relationship Manager roles is that by working so closely with the students who then, in turn, go onto be the alumni in industry, the academy is able to continue to grow and strengthen the relationship and links with industry. Olga noted that: “The individual relationships that develop with the students help to develop a vibrant alumni network who are willing to give back to the school. I have lots of helpful and willing alumni contacts to call upon if we want to implement a new idea or industrial project in the school. People are generally very responsive and willing to help. Alumni stay in touch for years, and, for example, pass the connection to the uni on to their wider team when they leave an organisation.” Olga is keen to explore new avenues where the Alumni might be able to strengthen the ties between students and industry further. For example, through ‘dragons den’ style panels, or including alumni in a communication skills module to provide an industry perspective. 

Being part of the academy

Being part of WRIPA means that each Student and Business Relationship Manager is connected to the other partner universities for support, idea sharing, best practice development and a wider network of connections. Olga explains that the partners are “not in competition with each other, and therefore this opens up access to more opportunities for our students. Of course different unis do things differently but we can discuss ideas on a WRIPA wide level”.