Freya Willens

Why did you apply for a Nuffield placement?

I applied for a Nuffield placement because it seemed like a good opportunity to gain valuable experience in the field of science.  Also, because I could find out more about what was involved in being a scientist.  

What was your project about?  Did you know much about the subject area before you started?

My project was based around the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) which is one of the four instruments going on the James Webb Space Telescope.  MIRI will be used to detect and to establish the composition of exoplanetary atmospheres (atmospheres of exoplanets).  The main aim of my project was to take an already discovered exoplanet (I chose GJ 1214 b) and using the techniques which MIRI would use, I had to calculate the contrast ratio (the amount of light going through the atmosphere) which MIRI would detect.  It involved a lot of calculations, many of which I hadn't heard of or used before.  Once I had eventually calculated the contrast ratio, I had to then calculate the error bars for MIRI.  This was extremely challenging for me, as I had only started basic uncertainties at school a few weeks before my placement.    

I knew quite a lot about the methods used to detect exoplanets and the telescopes which are used to do this (like Kepler), although I didn't really know anything about the atmospheres of exoplanets, so it was exciting for me to be able to gain some knowledge in this. 

Did you learn any new skills?

Over the course of my 5 week placement, I learnt lots of new skills.  I learnt new equations and calculations (error bars) which will be useful for when I go to university.  I have gained knowledge about what is involved in being a scientist in the field of space physics.

I have also learnt a lot about myself.  I can now communicate with others easily without feeling nervous, which is a big step for me as I am normally quite a shy person and now I can adapt to situations with ease.

How do you think this experience might help with your university/ future career applications?

This experience will play a huge part in my university/ future career applications for the simple fact that it is experience.  As we are all aware, universities and employers aren't just looking for 'grade -A students', they're looking for people with experience and this placement has allowed me to gain that in an institute well-known in the scientific community.

Another reason why this experience will play a huge part in my university/future career applications is that the Nuffield placement scheme offers placements in institutes which are extremely important in the scientific community, where the projects you are given to work and research on are very relevant to ongoing studies all across the globe, thus making the Nuffield placements a valuable experience to say you were a part of.

What are your long term future career plans?

Before my Nuffield placement, I was certain that I was going to study planetary science at university once I had finished school, in the hopes of becoming a planetary scientist (someone who specialises in the study of exoplanets). But now after completing my placement, I am considering studying astrophysics or even physics at university. This is because after talking to my supervisor and various other people at my placement, I discovered that many of them studied either physics or astrophysics at university, where many of whom are in positions like system engineers or instrument scientists. It's made me realise that I don't want to study something too specific like planetary science, so that I can keep my options open after I have left university.

I am still unsure about what I want to do after I have finished my degree at university.  I intend to either complete a doctorate or go into employment but one thing I do know is that it will be related to space physics.