Particle physics is a very international and non-hierarchical environment; cultural differences are transcended by common scientific aims
I joined The University of Manchester in 1996, and the particle physics group – as well as the hills around the city and a happily settled family – keep me here. It’s inspirational to have two colleagues who won the Nobel Prize for their work here and who have stayed in Manchester.
The “Standard Model” describes the interactions of the so-called “gauge bosons” (photon, W, Z, gluons) with one another and with the elementary fermions (quarks and leptons). By colliding particles together in accelerators at the highest achievable energies we can study the properties of these particles. Depending on your point of view, the past 40 years have been either a spectacular success in testing very precisely the predictions of the Standard Model, or a total failure to find direct evidence for the possible “new physics” that might lie beyond the Standard Model!
Particle physics is a very international and non-hierarchical environment; cultural differences are transcended by common scientific aims, and people are respected for the ideas they generate and the effort they put in, irrespective of whether they are a PhD student or just a professor. With research there is always a new challenge, an opportunity to put yourself in a position where you’re the “idiot” who needs to learn new skills. Some formative experiences have included: getting beaten up (metaphorically) when I was a postdoc by my Nobel prize-winning boss and (just about) surviving; after periods of “leadership”, succeeding in stepping off the conveyor belt and becoming a “proper physicist” again; and failing (on occasions spectacularly) to achieve a proper work-life balance. My motto is: the best is (hopefully) yet to come!
I believe that undergraduate physicists can (and should) do original research as well as study from books. By raising students’ expectations of themselves, I try to encourage the brightest and most enthusiastic to work a lot harder than it says on their official job description. I bring enthusiasm and perhaps a little madness to my teaching, and measure my success by what my students achieve with the rest of their lives. The warm feeling of seeing young physicists I’ve helped along the way doing great work and being recognized for their achievements is unbeatable.