Francesca Day (@FrancescaDay) is a PhD student based at University of Oxford. She is currently researching the astrophysical signatures of dark radiation.
Francesca will be standing on one of our soapboxes at our London event, on the 30th of May, from 2-5pm. There, she’ll be talking about hunting for new particles with physics fan fiction.
SS: Fran, how did you get to your current position?
FD: I did my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences, specialising in physics, at Cambridge. I’ve wanted to be a physicist for as long as I can remember, so choosing my undergraduate degree was very easy. Choosing which area to specialise in for my PhD was harder. I was told by several people that I should go for the “pragmatic” options such as biophysics or condensed matter. These are excellent fields, but I realised that my heart lies in particle physics. I was particularly inspired by attending the CERN summer student program and learning about how the Large Hadron Collider is hunting for new particles. I am very glad that I ignored my “advisors” and chose to study theoretical particle physics at Oxford.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
FD: The Universe inspired me to study it! I’ve also had advantages that made this decision much easier for me than it is for many women. My Mum is a biologist, so a career in science was always on my radar as a possibility. One of my strongest memories of my Dad is him teaching me simple algebra when I was about 10.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?
FD: I am fascinated by how mathematics can be applied to discover more about the Universe. The relationship between maths and the physical world is an ongoing debate in the philosophy of science, but to a theoretical physicist the most important thing is how spectacularly it works! We use maths to predict new particles that are later discovered. We use maths (along with some big computers!) to work out why the Milky Way is a spiral. We use maths to predict what will happen in particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider to an extraordinary degree of precision – it’s almost like being a wizard!
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
FD: I am disappointed by how many people still think of scientists as men. Women have contributed to science throughout history, but have not always been recognised for it. Soapbox Science is a way of fighting this. Also, I love talking about my research!
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? anticipation?
FD: Excitement. And I’m looking forward to wearing a lab coat again for the first time since I was 19!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
FD: A greater acknowledgement among both male and female scientists of how subconscious bias and prejudice creeps into all our decisions, unless we actively fight it. There have been many studies showing how both male and female scientists rate women as worse than men with the same CV. However, many individual scientists seem to maintain that they are magically immune to this effect!
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
FD: That’s me, so I wish I knew the answer!