Josiah O’Brien

Graduate Physicist, Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE)

How I came to STEM

During a GCSE physics class, my teacher did a presentation on all the jobs you could do with physics, from understanding what makes up the universe, to harnessing the elements to produce energy. From that day I knew I wanted to be a physicist, whatever that meant, and to have so many career possibilities.

I thoroughly enjoyed studying it at A-level and learning about so many different topics, but did find it very challenging! However, I was fortunate enough to gain a place at university to study physics, and it was here that I began to flourish thanks to a female professor who believed in my potential. I started to specialise in applied nuclear physics, and even got to build my own radiation detector for my Master’s project! I loved the hands-on approach to research and seeing real-world applications of my physics knowledge.

After my degree, I decided to stay in academia and started a PhD which took me to study in Finland. I enjoyed my time there but realised it was too theoretical, and I much preferred to be in the scientific industry, so chose to end my studies after the first year. It was then that I joined the AWE graduate scheme as a physicist, and I haven’t looked back since!

It’s been quite a difficult journey to get to where I am now, but thanks to support from people I looked up to at university, and my own hard work, I’m in a place where I can do what I love every day!

Why I love what I do

I work as a Radiation Detection Scientist at AWE, which is an incredibly exciting job! The research is quite varied, studying new methods for detecting radiation and its applications, as well as how to apply these methods in the real world. We also advise the government with our research and are responsible for the nuclear security of the UK. It really is an interesting role, with so many avenues of research and topics to explore.

I’m learning so much about the different facets of the company, and get to work with some world-class researchers and facilities. I work in the lab, but also test things out in the field, which is exactly the type of hands-on work I love. It’s stimulating and rewarding, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else! I’m so thankful I’ve had this opportunity to do something I enjoy and believe everyone should have unimpeded access to their ambitions within STEM, which is why the WISE mission resonates so strongly with me.

What I’m proud of, & what I’m hoping to achieve through the WYPB

WISE representation is, inherently, for women, but that doesn’t mean the burden of reaching equality must solely be recognised by them. Males also have a responsibility to help achieve a balanced workforce, and by promoting proactivity around this I hope to help speed up the inevitable equilibrium of STEM genders.

I’m very passionate about social issues such as gender equality and strive to educate people and promote these issues wherever possible. I can’t wait to join the WYPB and have a real impact on shaping the way we address gender imbalance, as well as representing WISE by running outreach initiatives to promote and inform school and university level women of fascinating STEM courses and career options. I think it’s vital that everyone has the same opportunities afforded to them, and can achieve a career they aspire to, but this isn’t available for all women. However, together we can continue to bring about positive change within STEM fields, raising the representation of women within business and industry. I don’t look to speak for women, but to use my voice to call for equal representation and inclusion.

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