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Career paths available to Physics alumni are almost boundless

Career paths available to Physics alumni are almost boundless

Physics alumni past and present have achieved great success in their careers, wherever they choose to take them.

Our Physics alumni are following self-initiated career paths that take their skills into diverse areas. A programme within Physics can open the door to almost anything.

Some of the routes our previous alumni have chosen include military service, engineering, accountancy and meteorology.

Notable Physics Alumni

Kathleen graduated with a BSc Physics in 1922 from Bedford College and was one of the first two women to be admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1945.

She paved the way in a male-dominated world for the many women who followed in her footsteps.

Kathleen was an X-ray crystallographer who rose from the most humble background to become one of the best-known workers in her field.

She was Professor of Chemistry and Head of the Department of Crystallography at University College, London, and was among the first to determine the structures of organic molecules.

Ruth graduated with a BSc Physics in 1961 and was the last Director of the Women's Royal Air Force before it merged with the RAF. She was aide-de-camp to HM The Queen and chaired the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces.

Commissioned into the Education Branch of the RAF in 1962, Ruth became the first woman officer to instruct in electrical engineering.

On promotion to Wing Commander in 1983 she became Officer Commanding of the Individual Studies School at the RAF Staff College.

In 1986 she moved to the Ministry of Defence, first as Deputy Director of the WRAF and then as Director.

Ruth has also previously been a member of our College Council and is an Honorary Fellow.

Vice Admiral Key was educated at Bromsgrove School and joined the Royal Navy in 1984, before enrolling at Royal Holloway to read Physics a year later. As a junior officer in the Royal Navy, he saw service in six of the seven oceans of the world in a variety of frigates and destroyers.

During his career, he has commanded four ships; the mine hunter HMS Sandown, the frigates HMS Iron Duke and HMS Lancaster, and the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious.

From 2013 – 15, Ben Key was Flag Officer Sea Training, responsible for recruiting, individual and operational training across the Navy. He took up the position as the Fleet Commander in February 2016, responsible for ensuring that the ships, submarines, Naval Air Squadrons and Royal Marine Commando units of the Fleet are ready for operations around the world, and was appointed CBE in the 2016 New Year Honours. 

In December 2018, Vice Admiral Ben Key attended our Winter Graduation ceremony and was the recipient of an Honorary Award of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa). More recently he led the UK evacuation of 15,000 British nationals and Afghans from Afghanistan.

In 2021 he was appointed as First Sea Lord to lead the Royal Navy. 

Name: Alistair McShee
Subject: MSci Physics with Particle Physics
Graduated: 2020
Place of work: UK Atomic Energy Authority
Position: Graduate Physicist

Why did you choose to study at Royal Holloway?

The small size of the campus and especially the physics department appealed to me, and I definitely made the right decision: The student-to-staff ratio meant we gained access to research opportunities throughout the degree that would simply not be possible at larger institutions. The range of specialisms on offer truly meant I could discover what I was most passionate about, and working alongside the academics on cutting edge projects allowed me to explore these topics first-hand.

The course prepares you for a career. Alongside world-leading physics content, we were also encouraged to pursue opportunities in industry or research as well, to help us transition to the next step after university.

What's happening in your career?

Having completed a summer placement at UKAEA after second year, which was sourced by the Royal Holloway physics department, I then joined the UKAEA graduate scheme which started the September after I graduated.

Fusion energy is the future, and we are looking for the best and the brightest to get involved with making that future a reality.

My greatest professional achievement to date was to be given an opportunity to directly control the largest fusion reactor currently operating in the world.


Name: Amarbeer Singh Gill
Subject: BSc Physics with Philosophy
Graduated: 2013
Position: Maths Lead Practitioner and Charity Director

Why did you choose to study at Royal Holloway?

At the time Royal Holloway was one of two universities that offered my course (Physics with Philosophy). It had an outstanding reputation and I wanted to go to a campus university so Royal Holloway was a no-brainer! I enjoyed being able to combine two very different disciplines together.

What are your favourite memories of your time at Royal Holloway?
Almost all involve working with the Students’ Union! My favourite time of the year was always the run up to Welcome Week - we would have committee training for a few days and then the last two days would be creating goodie bags for new students and running around the campus putting them on each and every single door in halls of residence! It was unbelievably busy but the vibe was always amazing; everyone just got stuck in and we were all working towards one common goal - giving new students the best start to their uni life!

How did Royal Holloway help you to discover opportunities and prepare you for life after university?
The Students' Union (SU) probably had the most significant impact in life after university. I'm a teacher now so my degree has played a key part in my subject knowledge, but the SU was where I made most of my friends and got involved in "the world of work". I was a volunteer there from my first year and ended up being elected President in my final year, which was my first full-time employment. I gained insights into how to run an organisation effectively, line management responsibilities, and charity governance, all of which have played a key role in establishing my own charity and the other trustee board work I have done since.

Did you engage with Volunteering as a student, if so could you share a memorable experience you had? 
Yes! Almost from day one! One of my favourite ones I've mentioned earlier, but another one was the response to the 2014 floods. There was massive flooding in the local area and so many of our student groups got together straight away and got stuck in to helping out - I got a message from the American Football Captain and got a few of the team together and drove them down to make sandbags. Again it was just that feeling of being surrounded by people who are all pouring their energy into doing something selfless.

Please tell us about your career journey since leaving university and what you do now.
I finished my degree in 2013 and stayed in Egham for another year as SU President. After this I took a gap year to do some travelling and picked up a part-time job at my old secondary school helping A-Level physics students, where I was offered a job to train as a maths teacher. I've been teaching since 2015 at two different secondary schools and have completed an MA in Expert Teaching. I've also been the deputy chair for the University of Brighton Students' Union, a council member for the Chartered College of Teaching, as well as setting up my own charity in 2017 to help the educational achievement of disadvantaged people in my local area. Currently I'm working as a lead teacher of maths in a secondary comprehensive and continue my charity work for Inspired Learning.

What do you enjoy most about your line of work?
Without doubt it's the students. I think being forced to move to online teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic really highlighted just how much more enjoyable being in the classroom is, those everyday interactions that you have with students are what make each day different - I don't think there's any other job quite like it.

What is your greatest professional achievement to date and what are your aspirations for the future?
Any time a student I've taught gets to where they want to go is an achievement for me, watching students grow and knowing you had a part to play in that is an amazingly rewarding feeling. My aspirations for the future? To keep helping as many students as I possibly can!

What advice would you give to students thinking about a career in your industry?
You won't regret your decision. It is an incredibly tough job and there may be times where it takes its toll - but I'm almost certain no other job gives the highs that teaching does

Name: Michael Cheesman
Subject: Physics
Graduated: 2010
Place of work: QinetiQ
Position: Acoustic Signature Analyst

QinetiQ is one of the UK’s largest research and technology organisations. It solves some of the world’s most important problems in defence, aerospace, security and related markets

Michael joined its graduate scheme and works within the Maritime division.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

First and foremost, it has an excellent record in the subject and is frequently placed as one of the top departments in the country.

With it being a campus university you benefit from having everything (including all of your friends) right on your doorstep.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

My degree has been vital for the skills I use on a daily basis. As an acoustic engineer, the knowledge I gained from my degree is used every day.

Royal Holloway has world class facilities, top research departments and a great mix of people from different backgrounds studying a huge variety of different subjects. My degree set me up perfectly for my current role and my future career.

Each year Royal Holloway’s Physics Department organises a large number of funded internships with different companies and research departments. I was fortunate enough to be accepted on to an eight-week internship with QinetiQ.

What’s happened in your career?

When I was accepted onto an internship I decided that this was the company I wanted to work for. As well as doing my day job I went on courses and learnt a lot of skills to help me in my career.

It gave me fantastic industry experience and was ultimately very important in helping me get on QinetiQ’s graduate scheme.

In my current role I ensure the Royal Navy’s fleet of ships and submarines are safe from detection by passive sonar. We regularly test the vessels, making sure they are quiet and have no issues that might endanger them.

Name: Michelle Tutt
Subject: Physics
Graduated: 2007
Place of work: Mott MacDonald
Position: Graduate Engineer

What’s happened in your career?

Following my graduation I did a short volunteering placement at a school in Tanzania.  I then took a conversion masters' degree for numerate graduates in Civil Engineering at University of Southampton, from which I graduated with distinction in 2009.  

My Master’s degree involved an 11-month work placement which I took in the Highways Division of Mott MacDonald, based in Southampton, where I was offered a permanent position following my graduation.

The first major project that I worked on was the Bexhill–Hastings Link Road, as support for the Engineering Witness, with the completion of his Statement of Evidence for the Public Inquiry held in Autumn 2009, which I also attended.  

Since the beginning of 2010 I have been seconded to the Highways Division International Team.  Following a short placement in Accra, Ghana working on a Bus Rapid Transit Scheme in early January, I have since been working exclusively on projects in Uganda.  In April, I transferred to the Kampala Office, and have been working on a 310km road upgrading project in western Uganda.

Working in Uganda, my time is divided between site work and office work.  When in the office, I spend time meeting clients and sub-contractors, organising the workload of junior staff, composing and submitting progress reports and analysing and solving design related problems. On site, I survey existing road conditions, including drainage, pavement conditions, traffic signage and safety features, and prepared survey drawings from which designs can be worked.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

As well as advancing my numeracy skills and developing my confidence with the manipulation of figures and formulae, my physics degree helped me to improve my technical writing skills, which is critical in my career. A key part of my role is to articulate complex problems to others and create technical solutions, and these skills I learnt from my physics degree.

What would tell your undergraduate self?

You get out of life what you put in... Hard work pays! Always stay positive as you never know what's just around the corner. And never compromise your dreams or ambitions.

Name: Elizabeth Roche
Subject: Physics
Graduated: 2007
Place of work: Centre of the Cell
Position: Learning Facilitator

What’s happened in your career?

I graduated with an MSci in Physics in 2007 and began a PhD immediately, after one year I decided that this was not the career for me so began to look for a job in science communication.  This proved challenging as you need a lot of experience which I had to build up by volunteering with numerous organizations such as STEMNET.

In early 2008 Techniquest in Cardiff gave me a home and I began my science communication training where I was presenting shows, workshops and demonstrations on a daily basis.  After a year I got a job working for the award-winning interactive science education centre, Centre of the Cell in East London as a Learning Facilitator and have been working here ever since.

A typical day might involve starting and running shows, preparing and running workshops onsite, taking a workshops out to schools, going to festivals and performing shows, and developing new material for shows and workshops (such as Snot, Sick and Scabs which was my latest show). Some of my working week is taken up with training at the moment as I am also learning sign language so that workshops and shows will eventually be sign assisted.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

I cannot imagine a better starting point to this career than a physics degree.  The skills you learn through a physics degree and the technical knowledge you acquire are invaluable.  It would be incredibly difficult for me to do my job if I did not have my science background.

What would you tell your undergraduate self?

You have to have a lot of experience under your belt to get a job in the current climate; your academic achievements are not always enough. A lot of this experience will require you to search for it and hunt it out and in many cases work for free for a while. The earlier you start this the better, i.e. in University holidays.

Name: Melissa George (now Uchida)
Subject: Mathematics and Physics 
Graduated: 2006
Place of work: University of Cambridge
Position: Lecturer and Head of Neutrino Group

What’s happened in your career?

After finishing my maths and physics degree at Royal Holloway I did a PhD at Queen Mary University of London in Exp Particle Physics working on T2K. Then onto a postdoctoral research fellow position at Sussex working on the cryo Neutron EDM experiment, followed by Imperial College, London, to work on the Muon Ionization Cooling Experiment and High Pressure Gas TPC. My colleagues and I won the Breakthrough Prize in 2016 for Neutrino Oscillation Research.

My days vary greatly – I can be working on data acquisition, hardware, electronics, software, analysis or even cryogenics. It is a lot of fun and a great experience being able to do such varied work in order to discover something completely new.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?  

Basically the skills I need to do my job. Of course in physics you never stop learning, but having a grounding in so many areas of physics is essential. I also learnt a lot from talking to my lecturers and discussing the kind of work that is involved in particle physics which really helped me decide what I wanted to do.

Name: Simon Meik
Subject: Surrey Satellite Technology
Graduated: 2006
Place of work: University of Sussex
Position: Spacecraft Systems Engineer

What’s happened in your career?

Following my graduation from Royal Holloway, I completed a one-year Masters at Cranfield University leaving with an MSc in Astronautics and Space Engineering. I started in my current position working for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) as a Systems Engineer in 2007.

My days are always varied any may include writing plans and procedures for spacecraft testing, conducting orbit simulations – while always being prepared to stop what I’m doing and change the plan. That’s engineering!

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

My physics degree has provided me with the essential tools I need for my career. In my experience, I have found the most useful of these to be: mathematics, fundamentals (the way things work!), writing reports, presentations and lab books, logical, rational thinking, and to be the blank piece of paper that can fold into anything.

What would you tell your undergraduate self?

Knowledge or experience of economics and business skills, customer interaction and processes vs projects (they are different things!) would have been very helpful.

Name: Luke Jones
Subject: Physics
Graduated: 2002
Place of work: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting
Position: Monitoring Atmospheric and Climate Composition Consultant Analyst

What’s happened in your career?

On graduating from my PhD I joined the Met Office as part of their graduate recruitment process, despite having no knowledge of meteorology beyond my general physics degree. The programming skills I learnt in my PhD however (FORTRAN on a Unix platform) were useful to them. I worked there for roughly five years, receiving some training on meteorology, before moving on to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, which is where I still work as part of the Monitoring Atmospheric and Climate Composition project.

My work is mainly writing, maintaining and upgrading programs to compare our forecasts of atmospheric composition (e.g. ozone, dust, pollution, greenhouse gases) with observations so that the model developers can see if they are making progress. This mostly involves coding in IDL (similar to Matlab), C++ and FORTRAN, and also Unix scripting. As well as programming I have to create and maintain databases of forecast and observational data.

I've found that creating software which is useful to other people in our project is a very rewarding task, and I especially take pride in making them very user-friendly, which distinguishes them from a lot of the other software we have to deal with.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

Essentially just the basic laws of physics with regards to gases and fluid motion (physics of condensation and evaporation, ideal gases, etc.), plus the programming skills I got from my PhD.

What would you say to your undergraduate self?

That taking every opportunity to learn something new in and around your subject will serve you very well, if not now, then over time. If presented with an opportunity to learn something, don't squander it because it may not come along again. I really enjoy scientific programming and find it very rewarding – that's something I didn't realise until I actually did it. Finally that perhaps the tangible specialist skills (e.g. programming, or maybe skill with electronics or the like) seem to be the key to jobs in science.

Name: Darren Millington
Subject: Theoretical Physics
Graduated: 2002
Place of work: Gama Group
Position: Chief Financial Officer

What’s happened in your career?

I was fortunate to get a place on a graduate training scheme with a science-based company called AEA Technology plc, where I initially worked in the Nuclear Science division's marketing and strategy department.

I had the potential to learn a 'trade' as an accountant. I joined Arthur Andersen (later becoming Deloitte) to train as a Chartered Accountant and worked with a large number of high tech companies. In 2003 an opportunity came up as an accountant and analyst within a startup venture capital company called IP2IPO who were working with Oxford University. It gave me a broad experience at the sharp end of starting a business and raising cash.

After a couple of years there I joined one of the start-ups I had helped form called Vastox – a biotechnology company working on a treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I initially joined as Financial Controller but was then promoted to Chief Financial Officer after a successful flotation on the London Stock Exchange.

Looking for an additional challenge and exposure to an international and customer-facing business, I joined Gama in Autumn 2008 as Chief Financial Officer.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

Getting a good degree in Physics is tough; it requires hard work and level of self motivation that is a highly valued trait outside of the campus. Maintaining this work ethic in your career can be challenging, especially as there will be periods where you simply aren't stretched in the same way as you were studying Maxwell's equations or Cosmology.

What would you say to your undergraduate self?

Starting your career can be a tough transition but the more you think about your five- and ten-year goals before graduation, the better equipped you will be. Also, in the first 2-3 years after graduation try to gain as wide an experience as possible.

Finally, don't stop learning. To stay employable, as well as keep your mind stretched, consider postgraduate courses in fields that are both interesting and valuable, such as foreign languages, an MBA or a professional qualification in IT, law or finance.

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