Helen Margolis

Helen Margolis

Fellow, Time & Frequency

How did you end up at NPL?

I studied physics at Oxford for my undergraduate degree and was particularly interested in atomic physics. I was offered a DPhil position there too, and my research attempted to test the theory of quantum electrodynamics by spectroscopy of highly-charged ions. I didn't actually get as far as that, but I did some interesting work along the way! I stayed on for a postdoc, and that's when I started to build links with NPL - we were both part of a collaborative project that also involved a research group in Japan. When my position in Oxford came to an end, there were vacancies in the Time & Frequency Group here, so I applied and joined in 1998.

Any top tips or advice to girls who think that science isn't for them? Or for girls who want to work in science?

Science is not for everybody, but don't be put off doing it by other people's impressions of it. Something I've learned is that you don't always achieve what you set out to do, but if you're asking the right questions, you'll still do valuable work. So, if you're interested in science, I'd say that the way to succeed is to set yourself ambitious goals that motivate you. But don't get hung up on achieving just the big goals, enjoy and learn from the smaller steps you take along the way.

Are things getting easier for women in STEM?

As I've progressed to more senior roles, I've become more aware of the difficulties facing people. I think it very much depends on what research area you're in and what level you're at. A lot of more junior women don't really feel themselves in the minority, which is positive. Later on, though, you may be the only woman in the room! NPL is really making an effort to improve the situation. We signed up to Project Juno from the Institute of Physics, which aims to address the issue of under-representation of women in physics and to demonstrate improvements in the working culture for all staff. At the top level, the management are very committed to it, but we need to make sure this commitment filters through the whole organisation.

I think it's important for young women to see other women out there, doing science, and know that it's a possibility for them. But it shouldn't be all down to the women to do this - we need to get men involved too, to show that science is something that women can do successfully.

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