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Anna Phan | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

So long, and thanks for all the fish…

So this will probably be my last post. Adam Davis, a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati, will be the next LHCb blogger for USLHC. You read that right, Syracuse University is not the only US institute in LHCb anymore, this year we’ve been joined not only by the University of Cincinnati, but also the University of Maryland. So look forward to new bloggers from both institutes in the future!

While lots of new people and institutes are joining LHCb, on a more personal note, I will be leaving at the end of the month. Leaving not only Syracuse University and LHCb, but particle physics as well. If any of you have read my bio, you will know that I did a double undergraduate degree, graduating with a bachelors in software engineering as well as physics. I chose to pursue particle physics as I wanted to do research and it’s probably the most computationally intensive area of physics research, so I would be able to utilise my programming skills. Not to mention of course, that it’s also a very exciting and interesting field of research. Now though, having devoted almost six years to physics and spending almost half of that time out here in Geneva, I feel that it’s time to take everything that I’ve learnt working at CERN, and apply it to other areas. And I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered the opportunity to do so at IBM Research back home in Melbourne.

This was by all means not an easy decision to make and I’ve spent most of the past year agonising over it. In research, the logical career path is to continue in research and work towards finding a permanent position either at a university or a laboratory. However, this isn’t possible for everybody. Simply by the numbers, there are fewer postdoc positions than there are phd students and even fewer permanent positions, maybe even none at all where you want to live. So most people do end up leaving research, but the opportunities outside the field tend not to be discussed and appear really daunting.

Now I was extraordinarily fortunate to get this job at IBM Research (seriously, I heard about the lab on a Friday and by the next Wednesday, only five days later, I had an informal offer), and you may say that I’m a special case as I have my software training as well as my physics experience to offer, but particle physics really does train you in many practical transferable skills. We learn how to think critically, we learn how to program, we learn to analyse large amounts of data, we learn how to take a large complex problem and split it up into smaller, more manageable problems, we learn how to handle problems outside our areas of knowledge, and I can’t emphasise this enough because it’s just everyday life for us, we learn how to work in large collaborations with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

The hardest thing about leaving research is knowing what type of job to apply for, where to search for job opportunities and how to apply. There’s a nice website, Beyond Physics, which tries to address this information void. However from personal experience, the best thing you can do is tell people what you are looking for and ask them if they know anything. I know it’s scary topic to bring up, particularly with your supervisors, advisors or employers, but everybody knows somebody who has left the field and where they’ve gone and even if they don’t know how they did it, they can always past along their contact information. And of course, don’t forget your family and friends!

Anyway, I hope you’ve all had as much fun reading my posts as I have writing them and that you’ve learnt a little along the way. And I’ll now turn it over to Adam, your new guide to the exciting world of flavour physics. Welcome, Adam!

  • Kathryn Jepsen

    Congratulations on the new job!! Good luck!

  • Jorge

    It’s sad to read this… I’ve learned a lot about B physics with you, but as a physicist working for industry in a very different field to what I studied, I fully understand you!

    I wish you an exciting new life and good luck back at home!!!

  • Congratulations. It is what I did when I graduated, my first job was with HP Labs doing software. Led to a great career. Good choice and good luck

  • Xezlec

    Funny. I’m a software engineer who kind of wishes I could have been a physicist. Never expected to see it the other way around. Best of luck!

  • Ken Bloom

    Hi Anna,

    Congratulations, and we’re going to miss you on the blog. Having been in Melbourne for ICHEP and seeing you there, I know that you must be really excited to be returning to your hometown. It’s really encouraging to see what you have to say about applying your skills from physics to other problems — it is exactly what we tell our undergraduates about what they might do after majoring in physics. Now we have another happy example! Good luck, best wishes.


  • Good luck!