High heels, running shoes and accelerator physics

I’m Suzie Sheehy and I’m an accelerator physicist. I am privileged to work with an amazing collection of inspiring, smart, lovely people at RAL, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in the UK.

As someone who loves to travel and learn about other cultures I enjoy being part of a truly international research field which has taken me all around the world from my hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

Particle accelerators

FFAG at KURRIRight now, I’m writing this blog post sitting in the airport en route to Osaka, Japan for the next three weeks. I’ll be working with a 150MeV proton accelerator at the Kyoto University Research Reactor institute (KURRI) where my research group are collaborating on experiments.

We want to understand what happens when you put a high intensity beam in a Fixed Field Alternating Gradient accelerator, which is a relatively unstudied but promising type of accelerator. Our proposed experiment is described here.

Here is a photo of me with one of our smaller-scale experiments: a plasma trap in Hiroshima University, which we use to simulate a particle accelerator: Suzie-Sheehy

Advice to my younger self

When I was younger I never thought I’d design and study particle accelerators for a job, but then there are many things I never thought I could do. If you’d asked me in school if I’d do a PhD, I would have told you I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t think I measured up to the people I learned about in textbooks. Of course now I know that lots of different types of people are scientists and that comparing yourself at 16 to some of the greatest scientists in history is rather misguided, to put it mildly. But back then I didn’t know any real working scientists so I didn’t really have any accessible role models to relate to.

Looking back, the advice I’d give myself back then would be “Stop comparing yourself to others, just follow things that interest and challenge you. Keep your eyes, ears and options open. Use your strengths and to talk to people lots.”

That’s why initiatives like ScienceGrrl are important: to give students and scientists the support and information they need to develop their abilities and careers; to plant that seed of thought which makes them think “I can do this”; and to keep reminding them of that.

Marathon running – for ScienceGrrl!

Another thing I never thought I could do was to run. If you’d asked me then, or even just five years ago, if I’d ever run a full marathon I probably would have laughed at you. Heck, my sports teacher would have laughed at you as she spent years just trying to convince me to run round the block in PE class. But I was wrong.

Despite the name of my blog, “High Heels in the Lab“,  sitting here in the departure lounge is no time for me to be glamorous. My training has forced me to be practical rather than fashionable. So the heels have been left at home and rather I’m wearing a worn looking pair of black trainers and some fetching neon green compression running socks hidden under my jeans. There’s a pleasant ache in my legs which reminds me, satisfyingly, that yesterday I just completed my last 20 mile (32km) long training run in the forests near Darmstadt, Germany.

It turns out I can run after all. I am just three weeks away from running my second full marathon. I’m so excited to be running the Virgin Money London Marathon on 13th April and I’ve chosen to use the run as an opportunity to raise a little bit of cash for a cause close to my heart.

I hope you can support ScienceGrrl by donating via my fundraising page:

I really believe that science is for everyone and that with the right motivation, training and support, anyone can achieve their goals. In that sense, it’s a bit like running, really. Follow me on twitter @suziesheehy. I’ll be using the #marathongrrl hashtag to promote this cause. You can also see my training on my running blog.

Suzie Sheehy