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Supporting equality in science on International Women’s Day

Photo of Sam Evans

We caught up with our student, Sam Evans, who’s from Cardiff and is studying physics. To mark International Women’s Day, she told us about the women from The Open University and across the globe who’ve encouraged her on her path into medical physics. 

Choosing physics and the OU 

Sam wasn’t ready to go into further education after completing her A-Levels. She wanted to travel and see the world and funded this by working full-time in between trips. A few years and job promotions later, Sam began to regret not taking her education and passion for physics further. However, she didn’t want to leave her hard-earned position at work, so began studying part-time with the OU in Wales. 

Growing up, Sam was always interested in science and computing. However, she found there was an imbalance in the role models she saw in her everyday life. 

'All the physics teachers in my school were male,’ she said. ‘I didn’t see any women doing physics. When I got into computers, physics and coding, it was something my dad and I did together.' 

However, this was soon to change as she began her OU studies.  

Meeting our academics

Sam enrolled on Cambridge University’s International Summer Science programme in between studying OU modules. Here she met Dr Judith Croston, Senior Lecturer in Physical Sciences at the OU, who was speaking at the event. Judith had written course material for the practical physics and astronomy module Sam was studying at the time. 

‘I mentioned to her that the only thing I would change about the course would be to include coding in the syllabus, as this wasn’t covered,’ explained Sam. Following this suggestion, Judith invited Sam to carry out a placement working on a coding project at the OU’s Milton Keynes campus.’

Equality is key and it’s important for those who identity as women to see others like them in the roles they aspire to. We should be talking not only about the people who’ve inspired us from afar, but also those who have encouraged and supported us first-hand.

Sam Evans, Physics Student, Cardiff

Sam also met Dr Beatriz Mingo, a physics researcher from Spain who works for the OU, and found they had a shared love for the subject. 

‘Beatriz was working as a Post Doctoral Research Associate for The Open University,’ she explains. We got chatting about a conference we were both going to, and now we speak most days. She’s worked on calibrating space instruments and so many other things, all in her second language.’ 

Discovering medical physics

Eager to gain further knowledge and experience, Sam attended Oxford University’s Undergraduate Women in Physics Conference. The annual event was set up by Daniella Bortoletto, an Italian physicist who worked on the world-famous Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. 

‘We had to put our name down for a course to do on the second day of the conference. There was an astrophysics option, but I wanted to do something I’d never done before. I saw medical physics and signed up, although I wasn’t even sure what a medical physicist did.’

'The session blew me away. We learnt about nuclear medicine, CT scans, X rays and different cancer treatments. It dawned on me that I could use physics to help people in a way that had more of an immediate effect than astrophysics. I could talk to patients, help them and think ‘Yes, I achieved that today’.’

Work experience and future ambitions

Sam then contacted different hospitals and health boards to arrange work experience. This resulted in her carrying out placements in the Heath Hospital and Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff and Singleton Hospital in Swansea. Sam hopes to complete a three-year Scientist Training Programme, after which she will be qualified with a master’s degree in medical physics. 

‘I know I’m on the right path. Everyone I’ve approached regarding work placements and other opportunities has been so helpful. I want people to see versions of themselves doing the job they want do, whatever their gender or identity.’

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