Case study: Duncan Scott

A specialism in particle accelerator design has enabled Duncan Scott to mix business with pleasure in Japan and relocate across the Atlantic.

Duncan Scott

Age: 35
Role: Research scientist
PhD, Liverpool University

After completing my MPhys in General Physics from Leeds University, I managed to get a job working at Daresbury Laboratory, which is run by the Science and Technology Facilities Research Council. My position was in the Accelerator Physics Group, working on the design of the new UK Light Source Diamond.

Much of my research at Daresbury was at PhD level, so I managed to enrol as a student at Liverpool University and overlap my work with part time studying for a PhD. My topic was on positron sources for future linear collider accelerators. Particle accelerators design is a very international subject. These machines are being designed by huge collaborations, mainly between the US, Europe, Japan, Korea and China. During my PhD studies I was travelling a lot and have now been to many places that are on other people’s wish list.

One of the best things is being able to combine a holiday with a conference, for example a week in Kyoto for work turns into a three-week trip to Japan riding bullet trains, climbing Mount Fuji and exploring Tokyo. 

After obtaining my PhD I wanted to try living abroad in a different culture – at least for a few years to broaden my horizons. I chose Fermilab near Chicago as my employer. As you might imagine, obtaining a work visa for the US is quite a long process. I didn't find it too complicated, just slow. I was not married and had no kids but I’m sure having a family to consider would make the process more difficult. Fermilab started the process, then I had plenty of forms to fill in. The information requested was all reasonable but it did take some time collating it and entering into websites. Then I had to go to the American Embassy in London and wait in line to be interviewed. It was fairly easy as long as you followed their instructions.

I spent the first month or two after arriving in the US doing plenty of admin tasks: obtaining a social-security card, driver’s licence and a place to live. When you don’t know the systems, and you don’t have friends and family who know the systems to help you, things often take a lot longer to accomplish. Everything worked out fine in the end. Although America has many similarities to Britain there are plenty of differences. Finding out these are all part of the fun, but hearing the same old stereotypes again and again can get a little boring.

There is a worldwide shortage of accomplished physicists to design particle accelerators machines. I’m in the academic side of physics, so that has many opportunities. I would say that most technical industries require physicists, plus large-scale government-run fields, like accelerators, high-performance computing, space science, particle and astrophysics, plus many others I’m sure.

Accelerators tend to be run by national laboratories that have comprehensive websites with job openings. I kept an eye on them looking for something I could do. I found my first job in accelerators in New Scientist.