Professor of plasma
Where do you work?
Imperial College London and Oxford University.
How would you describe your job?
My job involves teaching students and researching the field of plasma physics. I’m a theoretical physicist so I work with equations and computers. A particularly important part of my job is supervising PhD students. I have four PhD students currently. They have all completed their undergraduate degrees and now are working for their PhD under my guidance. Think of it as an academic apprenticeship
How long have you performed your role?
At Imperial since 2006; at Oxford since 2015.
Why did you want to work at Imperial and Oxford?
Working at Imperial College and at Oxford gives me the opportunity to work with some of the best scientists in the world (whether they are academics or students).
What educational qualifications do people need to perform your role?
An undergraduate degree and a PhD.
What practical experience do people need to help them to obtain your role?
You need to have worked independently in your academic subject to get an academic job. That means that you have got to the point where you are deciding what academic work to do and are taking it from beginning (having the idea) to the end (publishing the results). It varies from person to person, but that normally comes around five years after your PhD (say 29/30 years old). Competition for academic jobs is fierce. Once in a job to become a Professor you will need to demonstrate that you are a leader internationally in your field (say at 40-50 years old)
Are there any particular personal skills which people need to have to perform your role?
Many people think that an academic job involves working by yourself without much contact with others. In the sciences (I have less knowledge of what it’s like to work in the Humanities) nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all areas of science involve team work, often with people who are not at your own University or even in your own country. You have to be able to get on with people to flourish as an academic.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Finding out something that no-one has ever found out before. When it happens, it is an incredible feeling.
I also really like seeing a PhD student develop in their thinking and understanding.
What can be challenging about your work?
Frankly it’s just technically very hard and if things aren’t going too well (they often don’t) it can be tough. However, at least for me, the good times have outweighed the bad times.
What is your fondest memory?
Giving a talk at a conference in the USA in the late 2000s; I was on top of my subject and the audience seemed to like what I had done.
Do you have any personal advice?
Everyone says it, but pursue the subject that you enjoy, not the one that you think will give you more status or a better career. It’s obvious, but not everyone does that.
I think it would be difficult to decide on being an academic until you’re at the stage of doing a PhD, so if you’re younger then my advice is just to bear in mind that such jobs are out there and (I hope you’ve seen this from my answers above) they are incredibly fulfilling - bear them in mind.