University of Leicester builds launchpad for 'industry ready' physics graduates

Posted by ap507 at Mar 04, 2016 11:40 AM |
Unique 'Skills Elective' to embed employability in physics courses

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 4 March 2016

Physics students at the University of Leicester are putting theory into practice in a new Skills Elective that has seen them work with industry on projects such as decommissioning satellites and helping to diagnose breast cancer cases.

The new module has been created for the University's Undergraduate degrees in Physics offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The module provides students with an insight into a sector of their choice through applied research into problems relevant to industry, business, research or education – giving the students valuable skills to launch themselves onto their chosen career path.

The University of Leicester has long been at the forefront of efforts to address the employability skills of physics students, which includes an Institute of Physics scheme established in 2011/12. The Skills Electives module is a refinement of those early attempts to embed employability skills into the teaching curriculum.

It equips students with an array of highly desirable skills in today's job market, whether those are practical in the form of advanced programming, astrodynamics and electronics, or theoretical such as pedagogy and project management.

Dr Mervyn Roy the module leader said: “Our aim is to maximize the students’ employability, to help both employers and our graduates by making sure students are ‘industry ready’ and able to hit the ground running when starting a career. The module is not just about in-demand skills like programming, but crucially allows students to pick up invaluable project, budget, and team management experience in a workplace environment.”

Dr Graham Wynn, the Director of Teaching and Learning in the department, said: “Essentially we have set a module in which students select a mini-internship in their chosen career area. The most important development is the much broader range of careers involved from previous attempts, which is crucial for a subject like physics. We believe the Skills Electives module is unique in the sheer scope of its activities and is the first to encompass entrepreneurship and innovation directly.”

Students choose between a range of activities on offer within the module, a key aspect of the module being that the choice reflects their career aspirations. This has the benefit of enhancing skills directly relevant to the students’ chosen careers as well as maximising students’ engagement with the module.

Examples of projects that students have undertaken with the module include devising how to clear up space debris and looking at how best to decommission large satellites for Airbus Defence and Space; designing a ‘breast phantom’ to aid in breast cancer diagnoses and looking at the development of a hand held gamma-scanner for use in GP surgeries for Gamma Technologies; and improving imaging equipment for use on oil and gas rigs for Jorin Ltd.

Student Jasmine Michalowska, who worked on the ‘breast phantom’ for her project, said: “Being able to take control of a project that had real life implications and problem solve together felt like we were using the skills and physics we had learnt over the past two years in a way that had real life applications.

“The opportunity to work for the Space Research Centre on an additional medical project regarding phantoms also became available to me through this project. This was ideal for me as I'm seriously considering a career in medical physics after I graduate. I felt fairly prepared for this job and was able to jump straight in and apply the things I had learnt during the module.”

The module is designed to have the widest possible appeal. For example, students may choose to immerse themselves in a guided entrepreneurship exercise via the Department’s Lean Launchpad activity or, in an effort to help address the chronic shortage of physics teachers, students can invest in an education based module that serves as a sneak peek to a PGCE course led by the School of Education.

Dr Graham Wynn said: "We work with a wide range of partners, from multinational industrial clients to school teachers and local SMEs. Their input is crucial in shaping the skills we seek to engender in our students.”

The Lean LaunchPad programme was conceived and created by Steve Blank a Silicon Valley entrepreneur while teaching an entrepreneurship course at Stanford University. Lean LaunchPad has been taught at Stanford, University of California Berkeley, Columbia, Caltech and is currently part of the US National Science Foundation programmes for scientists and engineers.

This is a 10 week practical entrepreneurship programme that exposes teams of students to the real world challenges of taking a business concept or idea and determining whether it can be transformed into a viable and scalable business. This can only be achieved by testing the hypotheses that make up the initial vision of a startup’s founders by direct interaction with customers, allowing the initial idea or product to evolve iteratively using direct feedback from customers. The methodology allows startups to determine quite early whether the initial idea is valid, needs to change or should not be pursued and before significant time and resources are expended on product development. It also allows startups to develop more robust business models that have a greater chance of succeeding.

Dr Richard Ambrosi said: "One of the primary reasons for introducing this programme at Leicester was to get students thinking about the potential of their ideas and to try to turn graduates into job creators rather than job seekers. With about two and a quarter million students in the UK the potential for creating new businesses and economic growth is significant.”

Support from the industry partners involved in the module is gratefully acknowledged, in particular: Shaun Lynes from Lean Business; Stephen Gibson from Lockheed Martin UK; Constantina Muston from StartDoms.

Student case studies:

Jasmine Michalowska - Group Industry Project for Gamma Technologies (development of a breast phantom)

“It was one of the most enjoyable modules I've taken throughout the course. Being able to take control of a project that had real life implications and problem solve together felt like we were using the skills and physics we had learnt over the past two years in a way that had real life applications. The support from the Department and their enthusiasm for the project - including getting the phantom made for them to use with future experiments, was really motivating for us to keep working on and improving our designs throughout the term. The opportunity to work for the Space Research Centre on an additional medical project regarding phantoms also became available to me through this project. This was ideal for me as I'm seriously considering a career in medical physics after I graduate. I felt fairly prepared for this job and was able to jump straight in and apply the things I had learnt during the module.”

Callum Lightfoot - Group Business Project for the University Registry (optimising on-line services for students)

“The reason I enjoyed the course was because it was an open ended problem which allowed freedom of thought in order to solve it. I have been problem solving throughout my degree and being able to use a similar thought process to tackle a real world problem shows me how useful a physics related degree can be in any profession. I want to go into the business sector once I graduate and it was a fantastic opportunity for me to gain experience on a project that could have similar aspects to projects I take on throughout my career.”

Holly Mulvey - Introduction to Physics in Education

“I recently completed a module entitled 'An Introduction to Physics in Education'. I was unsure as to whether teaching was the path I wanted to take, so I was very grateful for the opportunity for some insight into the School of Education at the University of Leicester. The module was excellent, and was structured as a number of afternoons discussing some of the aspects of teaching with current science tutors in the School. Being in a smaller group allowed for more conversational teaching, which I found both effective and interesting. Overall it was a fantastic experience, there was a lot of support with the assignments, I learnt a great deal and I genuinely found it really fun! After taking part in this module I have applied for and have received a conditional offer with the School of Education at the University; I can’t wait to get started.”

James Campbell - Lean Launchpad

“Lean Launchpad offered me something greatly different to the rest of the Physics course. I chose it as I wished to gain a greater level of business acumen and understanding of entrepreneurship - which it did indeed provide. Anything that removes one from their comfort zone can provide an exciting style of learning (as well as expanding one's skill set); and the customer discovery, observation of business models, and performance of frequent presentations gave us something different to the majority of our course teaching. I didn’t think at the start of the elective that I would be comfortable giving a half-hour pitch for a company and product that my group honed over its duration, but this actually became an engaging and enjoyable task.”

Ends

Notes to editors:

For more information contact Mervyn Roy on mr6@le.ac.uk or Graham Wynn on gwy@le.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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