PHAS graduate student feature: Robin Newhouse
Robin Newhouse is a PhD student (supervisor: Dr. Alison Lister) whose research work is on searching for evidence of Heavy Neutral Leptons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) with the ATLAS Experiment. Recently, UBC Graduate School interviewed Robin on his experience with the graduate program, and he shared some tips for those who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree, or those who just started their graduate program.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
It was an exciting experience to engage with courses and research at the undergraduate level, but I had a sense that I was only catching up to the current state of knowledge in the world. I found it very important to me personally to push those boundaries and contribute to new knowledge. Throughout my undergraduate, I realized that the place to do that was in graduate-level research and beyond. In particular, I wanted to study physics at the Large Hadron Collider and investigate the highest-energy frontiers of physics. In such a technical and specialized field I knew I would need training beyond what was available in undergraduate programs.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I first came to UBC for my undergraduate degree in astronomy. I was attracted by the excellent astronomy program and once I arrived found other fields that were also extremely fascinating to me including computer science and high-energy particle physics. Once I decided I wanted to pursue graduate studies in particle physics I knew that the UBC group was very strong and a great fit for me. I also already had experienced how wonderful it is to live in Vancouver and really enjoyed all the opportunities that UBC has to offer its students.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
For me, I was particularly interested in the group I planned to work with (the UBC ATLAS group). I knew that this was a strong team with expertise in skills I wanted to develop. I was of course drawn to the financial support I would receive while doing research! Like many other universities, part of that support came from guaranteed teaching assistant opportunities. I was also drawn to the graduate program in the Department of Physics & Astronomy because of its academic excellence and its established relationships with institutes across the world. As a particle physicist, having TRIUMF — Canada's particle accelerator centre — literally just down the street has been very useful too!
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
Vancouver, and the mountainous terrain surrounding it, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I didn’t fully grasp this before arriving here. The proximity and ease of access to all things outdoors have really been vital to my physical and mental health in graduate school. Skiing, sailing, cycling, kayaking, mountain biking, running, surfing, rock climbing (the list goes on) are all things that graduate students here regularly enjoy on their days off. UBC’s Vancouver campus is its own special corner of all of this surrounded by beaches and a 2000 acre forest. I would call that all a pretty pleasant surprise.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
The weekly colloquia in Physics and Astronomy are a great aspect of the department. Though they’re open to anyone, graduate students are encouraged to attend. It is a great way to get an overview of the latest work being done outside UBC and at different departments within it.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Personally, I believe my biggest challenge will be transitioning to a non-academic career after I graduate. There are substantial differences in the forces that shape the work inside and outside of an academic setting. Having spent most of my life as a student, I will need to adjust to another type and pace of work.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
Fortunately, since the collaboration I work with is quite large I am exposed to the bureaucracy and culture of a larger international organization. There are also opportunities for me to take courses and training in fields popular in industry (data science, machine learning, software engineering). UBC also maintains a sizeable alumni network that can help build connections with professionals in many fields around the world.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
In my undergraduate degree, I took an early interest in computer science and software engineering. I believe that training serves me particularly well in my field, but even in other fields I’m familiar with, computing is a major part of the work. The more you can get comfortable with the fundamentals now, the better prepared you’ll be for most programs. I also participated in UBC’s Science Co-op program which allowed me to gain significant experience in research by the time I graduated. I think it was as useful in showing me which fields I wasn’t interested in as exposing me to those I was.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I like to make the most of the surrounding mountains and ocean when I can. One of my favourite summer activities at UBC has been joining the UBC Sailing Club and taking sailing lessons. Once you finish a course you can take the boats out whenever you want! It’s a great way to see Vancouver from another angle. Other clubs like the UBC Astronomy Club or the Ski and Board club are great avenues to finding fun things to do around Vancouver.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Remember to live life while you’re going through this challenging degree. Graduate school is not without its serious difficulties and it’s easy to let the complex work, deadlines, and setbacks get to you throughout your time as a graduate student. But remember to take the time you need to regenerate and explore non-academic interests. It may be tempting to keep up with the people in your department (who don’t seem to sleep), but remember that a graduate degree is a very individual experience and you’ll be most successful if you engage in a way that works best for you.
A version of this story originally appeared on the UBC Graduate School website.
Know a PHAS undergraduate or graduate student we could feature? Let us know - contact Theresa Liao (PHAS Communications Coordinator) at firstname.lastname@example.org.