Exploring research in physics

My name is Maggie, and I am in my third year of Physics and Astronomy!


What year and program are you in? 

Working on the radon board at SNOLAB, Sudbury

Before anything else, I consider myself a problem-solver. That is why I chose Physics and Astronomy as my major; it is a university program that teaches you how to develop problem-solving skills. My courses focus on fundamental concepts in physics, astronomy and computer science.

On top of that, I enjoy the hands-on aspect of experimental physics, the critical thinking part of data analysis and the satisfaction of solving a coding problem.

I am particularly interested in astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics. These fields allow us to better understand the world we live in, as well as help the people in the world right now, with new technologies and discoveries. 

 

How many co-op work terms have you done and where? 

My first work term was at SNOLAB, an underground physics research facility in Sudbury, ON. SNOLAB is a laboratory located in a mine 2 km underground and their science focuses on astroparticle physics, such as neutrino and dark matter research. I worked at SNOLAB for 4 months, where I had the opportunity to build and test a charcoal radon trap as part of the Scientific Support team. I learned new programming languages, ROOT and C++, and I used cool lab equipment, such as vacuum pumps and liquid nitrogen.  

My next two work terms were back-to-back at TRIUMF in Vancouver, BC. TRIUMF is Canada’s particle accelerator facility and it houses a wide variety of interesting research! I am currently in my sixth month of working there. I am working in the nuclear physics division in the Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy group. I have two main projects: detector maintenance for a neutron detector, and data analysis on a neutron-rich Cs isotope experiment. I am really enjoying the opportunity to do hands-on lab work, as well as develop my coding and analysis skills.

Through the DESCANT detector array at TRIUMF, Vancouver

 

Backpacking in Mt Seymour Provincial Park, BC

What has been the most rewarding thing about co-op? 

One of the most rewarding things about co-op is that you have the chance to travel to new cities! I always try and experience as much as I can during my co-op months, whether that’s skating on Ramsey Lake in Sudbury or going backpacking in the mountains in Vancouver. Even if you’re not going too far from home, the lack of academic stress during co-op makes the weekends so much more enjoyable.  

 

I also love the opportunity to present my science to other students and researchers! I won first place at the SNOLAB Student Talk Competition and second place in the Fall 2022 TRIUMF Student Symposium. In January 2023, I had the opportunity to do a talk at the Canadian Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CCUWiP) in Regina, SK. I received an Outstanding Oral Presentation award for my presentation.

In February 2023, I attended the Winter Nuclear Particle Physics Conference (WNPPC) in Banff, AB, where I presented a poster on my co-op term projects. From this, I won the Best Student Poster Presentation and I am extremely grateful for all these opportunities to present my research. Science communication is an important part of being a physicist and these experiences have allowed me to develop my skills.


What has been the most challenging thing about co-op? 

I always find the first month of co-op challenging. It’s when the steepest learning curve is. I am always so excited to jump into the bulk of my project, but before I get there, I have a LOT of learning to do. In physics, this often means reading papers and discovering new programming languages. It can be difficult to stay motivated sometimes, but it pays off! Once I have enough background knowledge, I can start my main projects for the term. It is important to keep your goals in mind and remember that your hard work will be rewarded. 


What was your technique to stay organized during your work term? 

During my co-op, I like to hold on to the organizational techniques I use during a school term. I use a weekly paper agenda, my monthly calendar associated with my work account and reminders on my phone.

One technique I have found extra useful this term is to make “To do tomorrow” lists for the following workday, especially when I have an incomplete or partially started task.

This is helpful in maintaining work-life balance because I don’t feel stressed to finish the task after 5 p.m.. It also helps for weekends when Friday’s activities are far back in my brain by Monday morning! 

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What is one thing you wish someone had told you about co-op? 

It is okay to make mistakes! As an undergrad, you are not expected to know everything or do everything perfectly. I once had a colleague tell me that’s what undergrad is for; making mistakes and learning from them. I used to get stressed when I couldn’t solve a coding problem or upset when I accidentally broke a bolt in the lab. However, I learned that good supervisors do not expect you to be perfect, and they won’t get mad about your mistakes. 

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