Student profile
Nick Werren, PhD Microbial and Cellular Sciences student at the University of Surrey

Nick Werren

"My proudest achievement is probably my first new result. It’s amazing to have produced something that is new to science."

Entry year
2016

PhD title: Memory Effects in Open Quantum Systems in a Biological Context

"Before starting my PhD I did a BSc and MSc at the University of Sussex. From there I pursued any theoretical physics course that caught my eye, from ‘quantum technology’ to ‘symmetry in particle physics’. I loved all of it!

I had a moment of realisation in my second year of university that the same mathematics that are used to describe vibrations on water are used to describe quantum phenomena. Patterns exist beneath everything and describe everything. Theoretical physics is the study of these patterns. These mathematical structures, and the physics that they create, amaze me.

After completing my MSc, I knew I wanted to continue research into physics but also stay involved in science communication. I then found a PhD at the University of Surrey in a subject I was very interested in: open quantum systems. The project itself was incredibly novel: quantum mechanics in biological systems! My supervisors are a mix of physicists and biologists, two of whom have a lot of experience in science communication. So ultimately, Surrey offered the best combination of research project and supervisor experience.

My supervisors have been incredibly supportive and helpful throughout my PhD so far. They meet with me regularly to discuss the project. In these meetings, we go over progress I’ve made so far, any issues, how I could tackle them and what direction I should take the research in. Additionally, my supervisors have provided support on a range of other issues outside of the PhD project.

 

"I have enjoyed the research itself the most. It provides me with the opportunity to immerse myself in a subject and learn new things."

 

 

I personally believe that learning is the most rewarding thing a person can do. With every lesson taught, there is another reason to appreciate the world in a different way. And with the PhD I’m doing a lot of learning!

I use the facilities at Surrey Sports Park a lot as theoretical physics isn’t exactly the most physically engaging research subject. The proximity of the Sports Park means I can easily go there before work or at weekends. It’s also great value!

The Doctoral College and Researcher Development Programme at Surrey are actively working to establish a strong research community. They’ve provided support and organised a range of events during my time here. I’m grateful to all the staff for their hard work!

Coincidentally, I’m working on some research to help a colleague in a completely different area right now. The University is very supportive of these kinds of collaborations, but ultimately it comes down to you. If you want to collaborate, you need to talk to colleagues and network when you can. Don’t be afraid to try helping with a subject outside of your comfort zone.

My proudest achievement is probably my first new result! It’s amazing to have produced something that is new to science. Every new result is an extra bit of progress for humanity as it tiptoes towards the future.

I have really enjoyed meeting new people, all with different backgrounds and interests. It’s fantastic! I’ve also been getting involved in activism; I’m working with the Students’ Union and the University to ethically source hardware here at Surrey. I’ve found my time here so far to be very empowering, one person really can make a big difference.

Also, I have been working with the Physics Department and the widening participation team to do a whole host of outreach events. From teaching kids at research fairs to doing science based stand-up comedy at Bright Club. There are a range of things to do here at Surrey, all you have to do is go out there and find them!

Before I came to Surrey, I spent years presenting radio shows on music, science, and comedy. My overall goal is to work in science communication. Physics can seem like an ivory tower which can only be scaled by the intellectual elite. I don’t believe this, I think all science can be made accessible. And I think society would be a better place for it. In the age of fake news, the communication between the academic community and the general public is more important than ever.

My advice to future PhD students would be to get involved with the student community. Join a society, meet people, and don’t let your passions elude you."

 

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