Zoë Davidson

Final Year PhD Student, Department of Physics, University of Strathclyde

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Success in STEM isn’t a competition, there is enough room for everyone to contribute.

What do you do?

Through my PhD research I get to work with some of the most powerful laser systems in the world to explore the evolving dynamics that transfer this laser energy into plasma, and accelerate high energy particles. By controlling these mechanisms, we hope to optimise and stabilize the output to bring us a step closer to compact laser-plasma accelerator applications.

Why did you choose this field?

I was attracted to my PhD research because of the potential application that laser-plasma accelerated particles have in medicine, laser-driven proton cancer therapy. I was first interested in Medical Physics after visiting the radiology department in my local hospital while I was at secondary school. Seeing this made me wonder what radiation was. Where was it coming from? How does it work? How is it controlled?
I pursued Physics after school in hope to answer more of these questions that kept popping up during my studies. I have to say, I wasn’t all that good at Physics at School. It never came easy to me. But, my desire to understand it outweighed my frustration to give up and I liked that challenge- It consumed my attention. I found Maths somewhat easy and therapeutic to work through, so Physics was ideal for me to use my Maths in a context to help understand the universe and the behaviour of light and matter within in it.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

For me, doing a PhD is a big achievement. I never considered of even dreaming to do this when I was younger, I thought it was out of my reach and too big a stretch of my abilities. Feelings of self-doubt early on can influence how engaged you are in your studies and they can grow with you and even limit your aspirations. This can later impact your confidence to apply for jobs and other opportunities. Although this could have stopped me from progressing in STEM I hope with better role models, awareness, support networks and resources fewer young women feel that way now but if they do, they won’t have to conquer that additional mental hurdle alone today.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I enjoy working in STEM because we are always developing, pushing forward, investigating the unknowns and uncovering surprising results. STEM research drives the wave of innovation that effects everything we use and do. It is exciting to be part of something with the potential to be so impactful in shaping our future. Being involved in STEM boosts our probability of making a positive difference in our world, and that is a great motivation for me. To be part of something bigger.

Best advice for next generation?

Stay curious, question everything, and be resilient. Don’t let anything put you off from following your interests and aspirations. Also, be an ally to each other and other underrepresented people in any space as it isn’t always easy. Success in STEM isn’t a competition, there is enough room for everyone to contribute. You’ll find the best science is produced when everyone is represented, involved, heard, and respected when working together. That is the real recipe for successful science.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

Before discovering Physics, I was set on becoming a professional ballerina. I did both for as long as I could until I had to commit to one full time.

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