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Discussion notes for IOP Business Forum: "Physics in the North West"

14 June 2011

At the Business Forum on 11 May 2011, Professor Whitehouse described the success story of the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, and the strength more generally of science based businesses in the region.

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The North West of England has an economy larger than that of the Ukraine, and 25% of this is built on science-based businesses. Daresbury is a case study of the economic impact and societal worth that can result from science: home to more than 100 high-growth science start-ups, together with cutting-edge accelerator research and development. The centre also has strong ties with local schools and the broader community.

Professor Morrison spoke about how his department at Salford is developing methods of embedding employability skills into undergraduate physics curricula, allowing graduates to gain both the things that make them attractive to employers: formal physics training coupled with additional entrepreneurial abilities and experiences of the workplace. A key point is to raise awareness amongst undergraduates of the range of jobs that are open to them once they graduate, something that is often lacking.

The floor was opened to allow the attendees to bring their perspectives to the discussion:

  • A major topic of the discussion was the way in which schools and universities prepare physicists for the world of work. How this has been and could continue to be improved; for example, graduates could be taught more on how to make themselves stand out as applicants to jobs. For example, students could gain more exposure to the culture of employment, what might be expected of them when they start work.
  • An enduring theme was the need to ensure that the teaching of physics was more than just ‘teaching to the exam’, instead there is a need to ensure that students have a broader understanding of the subject and its applications.
    The advantages of new models of learning, for example through the web and videos were also discussions. This issue probably applies to many more subjects than physics and might therefore benefit from a combined approach.
  • Acknowledging that several leaders of large businesses have a physics background, the question was asked: what is a suitable job for a physicist? 
    It was noted that the training of physicists was only one side of the equation; all present believed that physics (in combination with other disciplines) continues to be of vital importance to new high growth companies in places like the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, who are able to employ graduates at full added value. It is vital that IOP continues to offer them a voice so that all concerned understand the economic value of their physics and physicists.


  • Professor Ian Morrison, University of Salford
  • Professor Colin Whitehouse, Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

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