STEM Untapped

Extended Episode: Dr Jessica Boland - Senior Lecturer of Functional Materials and Devices

June 06, 2023 STEM Untapped Episode 26
Extended Episode: Dr Jessica Boland - Senior Lecturer of Functional Materials and Devices
STEM Untapped
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STEM Untapped
Extended Episode: Dr Jessica Boland - Senior Lecturer of Functional Materials and Devices
Jun 06, 2023 Episode 26
STEM Untapped

In this extended podcast episode, you'll hear more from Dr Jessica Boland, who is a Senior Lecturer of Functional Materials and Devices at the University of Manchester. Jessie, Tamina and Ellie discuss how lasers are improving the technology in our devices, how Jessie worked to develop science based sign language, and fun ways to revise for maths and physics exams.

Some resources that Jessie recommends are:
Laser Maze Puzzle Game
Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) website
BSL Glossary of Curriculum Terms App - download here

If you know a group of students who would like to interview female or non-binary role models, please get in touch by emailing

Likewise, if you know anyone who would be a great role model, let us know by emailing

Follow us on Instagram @STEMUntapped
Check out our website

Send us a Text Message.

If you know a group of students who would like to interview one of our role models, please get in touch by emailing

Likewise, if you know anyone who would be a great role model, let us know by emailing

Follow us on Instagram @STEMUntapped
Connect with us on LinkedIn @STEMUntappedCIC
Check out our website

Show Notes Transcript

In this extended podcast episode, you'll hear more from Dr Jessica Boland, who is a Senior Lecturer of Functional Materials and Devices at the University of Manchester. Jessie, Tamina and Ellie discuss how lasers are improving the technology in our devices, how Jessie worked to develop science based sign language, and fun ways to revise for maths and physics exams.

Some resources that Jessie recommends are:
Laser Maze Puzzle Game
Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) website
BSL Glossary of Curriculum Terms App - download here

If you know a group of students who would like to interview female or non-binary role models, please get in touch by emailing

Likewise, if you know anyone who would be a great role model, let us know by emailing

Follow us on Instagram @STEMUntapped
Check out our website

Send us a Text Message.

If you know a group of students who would like to interview one of our role models, please get in touch by emailing

Likewise, if you know anyone who would be a great role model, let us know by emailing

Follow us on Instagram @STEMUntapped
Connect with us on LinkedIn @STEMUntappedCIC
Check out our website

Intro 00:00

Hi, I'm Izzy host of the STEM Untapped podcast. This week we're releasing an extended edition of our previous episode with Dr Jessica Boland, a Senior Lecturer working in the Electrical Engineering department at the University of Manchester. In this episode you can find out more about how lasers are improving the technology in our devices, how Jessie worked to develop science based sign language, and fun ways to revise for maths and physics exams.


Dr Jessica Boland  00:27

I'm Dr. Jessica Boland, and I'm from the University of Manchester. I'm a Senior Lecturer researching nanomaterials and devices in the electrical engineering department. But I am a secret physicist.


Izzy  00:42

So Tamina and Ellie, please can you introduce yourselves to Jessie and tell her why you've chosen to interview her and what subjects you're studying and what year you're in at school?


Tamina  00:53

I am Tamina, we chose you, because we're very interested in physics. And next year, we're doing our A levels, and I am going to do physics. 


Ellie  01:04

Hi I’m Ellie. I'm also in year 11, as well, we chose you because in our class, I'd say it's quite even with like boys and girls and stuff. But it's good to see the differences and like the diversity, and I just want to know, like, what's it like for you in the diversity in your classes and stuff?


Dr Jessica Boland  01:23

That's great. I'm so delighted that you chose me. Yeah, it's really nice to meet you both. And also, it's great to hear that you're both interested in physics. So yeah, yes, physics is great, you won't be disappointed, you'll never get bored. But I think it's a good point that you raised about diversity. It was actually I did my physics A Level in an all girls school, originally. So while I would say that we did do a lot of physics, I didn't see that shock of kind of diversity until I went to university. So in my A levels, it was all of us girls, we all enjoyed it. I think that there was two others that absolutely loved physics for physics on its own, and knew we were going to do a physics degree. And then the rest of them were interested in science in more general. So a lot of people did biology and chemistry as well. And just interested in all of the sciences. I didn't do biology or chemistry. So please don't ask me any questions about it, I only do physics. So the rest of my A levels were very different. So languages, German, Latin, and physics was my only baby subject that I loved for science wise. So when I went to undergrad, it was a little bit different. It was like five of us girls in a group of about 80. So that was very different. And then when I when I did my PhD, which is what gives you a doctorate, there wasn't too many girls there either. But what I would say is, we were all extremely supportive of each other. So the five girls within my course, we were always kind of chatting helping each other as well. And I had a really good friendship group around me. So boys aren't scary, they can be really nice as well. There's a really nice boys in my undergraduate course, who were equally supportive. But it can be a little bit kind of nerve wracking to start with when you feel like you're kind of in a minority group. But what you need to remind yourselves is that you are amazing, you're there, because you love the subject, you're good at it, and you're gonna succeed as equally well. And diversity is getting better. So throughout my career, I have seen some extremely talented female physicists coming through, there's more of us and more representation. And it's really important that if you do go on and do it as well, that you will be that next generation of epic female physicists, so don't worry about it. It's getting better.


Ellie  04:03

So when we were looking over your biography, you had so many awards, like so many achievements. And do you have any goals for 2023? And like, what's your next steps really?


Dr Jessica Boland  04:15

One of my main goals at the moment is supporting my research group. We have about four PhD students, four students trying to become doctors and do their own research groups as well. So my main goal for 2023 is actually supporting them. A lot of them are coming to the end of their kind of PhD cycle. And I want them to come out really confident with a great PhD and also hopefully stay in academia and stay and start their own research groups. Then my main goals is actually just making sure they're supported, happy and get their degrees over the line. So that's kind of my main goals at the moment. So I teach a lot as well. So teach some first year undergraduates. And I teach them about materials, which is quite exciting. And I have a specific goal for that as well, which is I want to try and get a slide into my teaching lectures, which is a kind of fun goal I want to try and in infuse those students a little bit as well. So I want to try and develop my teaching. So I can come up with some fun interactive demonstrations, some new ones that I can put in the kind of lecture theatre as well. So those are kind of my main goals at the moment. I'm also building my lab still as well. So I've got three pieces of quite big equipment, which is quite expensive actually. They cost about a million pounds. It's ridiculous. Yeah, I know, it's ridiculous. So quite expensive, but some really nice fun lasers. And we're having a new piece of equipment arriving in March. So excited. If you would like as well, I'm happy to send you some photos of what the lab looks like, things like that. Because it's always kind of when we speak about labs, you've got no idea what they look like, I think it's cool. So I can send you some pictures of my lab as well. I don't wear a lab coat, though. So you might not see me in a lab coat, I'm sorry, but I've got fancy laser safety goggles, so that will look fun. And that's the other thing in 2023 that I'm hoping to, that will go well is to set up that new piece of equipment. And that's a new microscope to look at materials for your devices. And it's in a different kind of wavelength range to what I usually use. So it's using visible light this time in this fancy microscope. That's another thing for 2023.


Ellie  06:42

Yeah, that's amazing.


Tamina  06:45

Again, how we saw that you have like loads of awards, and what is like your favourite award that you have ever gotten that you're most proud of?


Dr Jessica Boland  06:53

One of my favourite awards was the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Award. And the reason for that is because a lot of your awards are mainly focused on research that you do. But that particular award was for your research, but also for promoting other women in the field. So that part of that award was really quite important to me. Because although we do exciting science, and it's fantastic, and playing with lasers will never get dull. For me, I think the thing I'd like to be remembered for is making sure that I've left the door open for other people. So that was really special for me that award. It was awarded at the end of my studies at the end of my PhD as I was transitioning to my own research group and building my own activity and those kind of values with that award of trying to support people through was important for starting that new group. So that's why that one is my favourite.


Ellie  07:51

What does your day to day life look like? Do you wake up early in the morning? Or do you lie in? Cos lying in is my favourite.


Dr Jessica Boland  07:57

I hate to tell you, unfortunately, I wake up too early, too early. So this morning, I was like out the door at half, six in the morning, right? Don't worry. That's not what being a scientist is. I promise you can lie in. The reason for that is because I've got an hour commute to get into work because I live in Chester and I work in Manchester. So my partner he is an engineer as well. So he he works in in Wales, he’s designing scopes for the military rifle scopes the military, which is pretty cool in itself. Yeah, exactly. And I obviously work at the University of Manchester. So I've got a little bit of a commute to do because we live halfway in between. So that's the only reason I wake up early. During my PhD, you could have like come in at 10am if you wanted to, which is a pretty sweet deal. I'm not gonna lie. Most of us academics while we teach, and most of our teachings in nine to five, the hours that we work are quite flexible. Some of us choose to get up early and finish at like 3pm have a little bit of jolly then some people like to work in a lab in an evening because it's quieter. Myself though, I start quite early, usually in at eight o'clock. And my typical day starts with admin. So I will do some emails, check that my group is okay. Sort that out, then it kind of go around my group and chat to them about the science that they are doing. So I used to be in the lab full time myself. Now I'm more of a supervisor. So my students are in the lab. Most of the time they do a lot of the work. They are amazing people. They are kind of the brains really behind the operation. So I speak to them. I ask them questions, give them tips on their research, etc. Check that they're all doing okay. Then I might actually go give a lecture. That could be two hours. So I teach to 300 undergraduates in a massive lecture theatre, a lot of fun, not as scary as it's sounds and then I might come back into the lab myself. And I do a lot of aligning of my lasers. So I've got to put my laser safety goggles on, get my hands get gloves on, get my hands dirty, and I'm using a lot of mirrors to direct my lasers onto my material. Have you ever seen that there's a laser game, by the way, a laser board game that you can get to I will send you a link, it's a great, perfect Christmas present that you can add on the guestlist. Right. So this game I’ll suggested to you, but it's where you've got loads of mirrors to direct your laser beam, and you might have a block to stock your laser beam, you might have a window that your laser beam can transmit through. So a lot of kind of what I physically do in the lab is kind of aligning those mirrors, putting windows in place to make sure that I've got a really nice laser beam on my sample and signals. Once I've aligned it, then I look at what that laser beam can go through my sample. If any of its absorbed, if any of its reflected. And I measure that with a signal, I might go to my computer, see the signal on the screen. And then there is a little bit of maths involved as well. So once I've got my data, then I might sit at my computer for a bit, do a little bit of coding, a little bit of mathematics to work out what the data is showing me. And that's the most exciting bit because then you're like, oh, cool things I found out in from my science. And then the other part of what I might do in a day is tell people about those results. So that’s people that pay me, so people that pay for all the lovely expensive equipment that I have. I tell them what I've done that I've got nice results as well. But it's also telling the rest of the science community, though I might be writing papers to tell them about the results, similar to a report you might write in school. So when you do your practical lab experiments, and you have to write up your results, sometime I spend a kind of in my office writing results in a similar way so that we can then work out what to do next. Yeah, that's kind of a typical day, I'm sorry that it starts at 6am. To me, I'm sorry, Ellie, I'm sorry.


Tamina  12:14

Did you find it harder to learn physics because of your disability?


Dr Jessica Boland  12:18

My disability is a hearing impairment. Or you could say that I am deaf with a little d. That means that I have quite a significant hearing loss. But when I was growing up, I didn't use sign language as a first language. Now I've started to learn sign language, and I use it an awful lot more. But when I was studying for my physics degree, I didn't have that sign language capability, I was relying on lip reading a lot. And actually, everybody lip reads they just don't know it. You can check this out at home as well. But we subconsciously lip read. So if somebody is mouthing something to you, or if you put headphones on, you will still get some of the information even without thinking about it because you lip read subconsciously. Also, if you kind of know what the topic of conversation is. So if you get your parents to say a colour, and then you put headphones on and they say a colour, because you know it's a colour, you'll be expecting a certain word to come through. And then you'll notice that your lip reading will get easier. So you'll understand what they're saying a little bit more. So we all do this, but because I've had to do it for much longer and tune into it as a main means of my communication, I would say that I probably do it better than the average person. That's what I've basically relied on for my degree. I didn't realise I was deaf for several years. Bizarre, right? I had no idea what other people can hear. So me I was like, this is a normal level of hearing. Everybody can't hear trees whistling, everybody can't hear birds, everybody struggles with speech. So for me, I didn't realise for a long time, especially as a child that had this problem. But I would say that I had mechanisms for coping that allowed me to do well kind of at school so things like sitting at the front, knowing that I needed to see people to lip read my teachers were aware so they would make sure that I got instructions really, really helped. I would say that I probably got tired more during my degree because you're focusing so much and concentrating, you’re lip reading a lot, your brain’s trying to compute what your lip reading and compute the information that's going in. So that was very difficult. In the first year. I didn't have a note taker so that was my main means of communication and I did get quite tired. In second year though, I got a lot more support. I had a notetaker that was great because also everybody else in the class wanted the notes. So it's great for making friends. So, especially around revision time that you just be like, Ah, look, everyone, I've got some notes that I'll happily share with you for some chocolate. So that worked quite well, there was perks for that, but I had note takers, I had radio aids, you may have seen them in the theatre, you wear hearing aids on your ears, you give a device to someone else, and it's like a microphone. So I had that. And then it got a lot easier in terms of studying it undergrad. What I will say is that my disability didn't affect my ability to study physics, as in physics is still physics, it's still the same physics. So in terms of the problems that were hard in physics was still hard for me and everybody else who could hear as well. And my ability to do experiments was exactly the same as everybody else. All I needed was that access to make it difficult. And that's kind of one of the things that most people who have a disability, you'd find will say to you that we don't feel disabled, because we can still do what everybody else can do. We just need adjustments to help us do it. So that's what I would kind of say about learning, that once I had the adjustments, it was exactly the same as everybody else. But without the adjustments, it was a little bit harder. Yeah, it's a really good question. I think, by the way, that lip reading is a superpower. Because in my lecture theatre 300 students, I don't need to hear them, because I don't rely on that. So if they ask questions, as long as I can see them, and I know what the topic’s on, I can actually see what a person at the back of the lecture theatres saying without kind of them knowing which is creeps them out quite a lot, especially when they're not paying attention in lectures.


Ellie  16:50

Amazing. And you were saying in the past few years, you started to learn sign language. And so was there any like really interesting, like, What's your favourite sign for something sciency?


Dr Jessica Boland  16:59

I like the sign for laser, which is brilliant. So it's like this. That's what lasers look like, they’re straight lines and quite fast, like that. And it's, so I love that one. And one of the other ones that I really like, because my research uses terahertz radiation all the time, that was the first scientific sign I tried to learn. So the sign for radiation is like spreading your fingers out like this. Amazing, so fun. And actually, when I tried to learn terahertz radiation, the word terahertz didn't exist in BSL yet. So I had to think about how would I sign terahertz radiation to people. And we usually say terahertz in a shortened way, we use the letters in it, so T H Z, so I had to say that, okay, that's how we'll sign it. So we'll do T H Z, and radiation. So that was quite fun. And then I learned a lot about the development in terms of, there aren't many scientific signs out there. There's an amazing group called the Scottish Sensory Centre, that are creating science signs, there's an app that you can download on your phone as well, which is great, called BSL education. So there's a lot of groups out there developing these signs. But it was something new for me that while it was learning sign language, to kind of find out that this is some of those signs aren't there yet. And that's something that needs to be developed and kind of a hope that as I learn more sign language, I can combine my scientific knowledge with my sign language and help to develop some of those signs as well. But yeah, that's probably one of my favourites, is like laser.


Tamina  18:46

We read that you did ballet for like a long time in your life. And we wonder if you still do it?


Dr Jessica Boland  18:52

So I took a massive break, actually. So I was up in English Youth Ballet until still about maybe 17. I think I was stay stayed in that and I've got some cute little pictures that I found out of me and a little red tutu, which is quite quite fun. From that time. And then I took a bit of a break, but I've actually recently got back into it. So one of my hobbies is to do a lot of musical theatre in my spare time. A lot of singing and dancing. Oh, do you do that as well? Do you? 


Tamina 19:24

Yeah I do drama.


Dr Jessica Boland 19:25

Brilliant. It's so much fun. It's so much fun. But um, yeah, I actually recently did the Addams Family musical, that was great. And although my dark hair I was too old to play Wednesday, and slightly too young to play Morticia, at least that's what I'm telling myself. But I got to play a great part which was called Alice who was a mom of Wednesday's love interest. And she's really quiet really cute throughout the whole show. And then end of Act One she gets a little bit drunk at a party, starts singing and climbing on tables. So that was, that was great fun. But I really enjoyed it because it was so different from what I do in a day job that I kind of could relax a bit. And it was a good release and have a little bit of comedy in my life and try and play a character that's not usually like me. And there was quite a bit of dancing involved in there. I've got my tap shoes back out, I've got the ballet shoes back out. And my lovely mom gave me all of my ballet tutus back. So I’ve er literally this year, started getting them back out and starting back into the ballet. But I must say that I need to do a lot more yoga. Because it's been so long that I'm not as flexible as I once was.


Ellie  20:46

When we were doing our preparation, like meeting, Izzy was telling us about like imposter syndrome. That sort of reminded me of when I was in around year seven or eight, I wasn't feeling so confident to myself because there was a boy in my class and he was far more brighter than me, and he liked to show off. So what would you say to someone sort of suffering from impostor syndrome? And like, how would you, if you were separate from yourself, even?


Dr Jessica Boland  21:12

I suffered from it every day. So like, every day, I have imposter syndrome. And there's always a feeling that at some point, they're going to take my office keys off me and kick me out of the university. So every time I come, I think that's going to happen. And I would say that it's almost got kind of stronger, the further along you get in your career. So undergrad, I felt a little bit of like, should I be here or not, studying for my PhD I felt like that. Also, the PhD was in Oxford so I felt like I didn't fit in, because I'm originally from Birmingham. And on day one, I got etiquette lessons. So I had a massive impostor syndrome there. And then it was fine. Like I survived everything carried on. And then when I started this job as well, again, I was like, have they hired the wrong person. And the thing that kept me going was to say, it doesn't matter, I'm going to keep going until they do kick me out. And then they never do kick you out. And it's fine. But like that attitude of, I'm just gonna do my best. And until they find me out, kept me going, and helped me deal with impostor syndrome. The other advice that I got given, which was really cool was to think of that person that you know, is really showy, really clever, really arrogant. So the boy that you're talking about, picture that boy in your head. And when you come and ask yourself something like, just go, would he have applied for this? And the answer is probably, yes, they would. It was like, Well, I'm gonna do it as well. So thinking about that person that seems so confident and go, would they have put themselves for this role? Would they be feeling this? Would they apply for this scholarship? And usually, the answer is, yes, they would. And then you go, I'm gonna do whatever that person's gonna do. And then it at least makes you push yourself to do the things that you are completely capable of doing. And that's a way of helping you get over that impostor syndrome. 


Ellie 23:09

Lovely, thank you. 


Dr Jessica Boland 23:11

My partner gave me that advice, actually, because I'd come home and I'd say, this person's doing this amazing stuff. I'm not sure I could apply for this. And he would go, pick someone in my work and go, well, they would apply for it. So why shouldn't you you've got nothing to lose. And that advice was really helpful. So often, your family and your great supporters, because they will tell you just to go for things anyway. The worst that can happen is someone will turn around and go, No, but you're still in the same boat that you were in at the start. So you might as well just go for it. 


Ellie  23:42

Do you find it hard to keep the steady work to life balance? Or do you like overwork sometimes? Or do you like take too many breaks? Like how do you sort of balance work in life?


Dr Jessica Boland  23:53

Work life balance is incredibly important to get right. And I think that it's a constant thing that I'm trying to manage. One of the things that's really helped was taking up that musical theatre, actually, in an evening, because I had to commit to something which meant that I couldn't work in evenings. And that was one of the main motivations because I know I enjoy the singing and dancing. If I sign up to something as a hobby, then I will have committed to that work life balance. So that was really helpful. And I've enjoyed that so much that I would never now go back to working on evenings and weekends. So trying to make sure that on Saturdays I've got a day trip planned and on Sundays I do absolutely nothing but sit in my pyjamas, which is fantastic. Pyjamas, a Sunday roast and a film. That's my Sunday. You get into a habit and then that stopped me kind of overworking a little bit. But it was difficult to do because you can have quite a lot of pressure especially if you see people around you working evenings and working weekends. And you can fall into trap of thinking you're not working hard enough. And maybe they're gonna do better than me. There was a period in lockdown where I had to work a little bit on weekends to get my lectures done. And it tired me out so much that in the week, I couldn't focus. So with a subject like physics, you really need your brain to be on top form, to think of things. And I think that's the same with any subject and every job that you need your brain to be on top form, relaxed to do a good job. So that's also helped me manage the work life balance, because I've told myself, if you're tired, and you don't have this relaxation time, you might as well not bother going into work tomorrow, because you're not going to do a good job. And that's helped kind of changed my attitude towards work life balance. And I think it's really important scheduling in little day trips is the way to go. Or a little hobby. Yeah,


Ellie  25:55

I have a mum that goes Oh take a 20 minute break, take a five, don't worry, My dad says why aren’t you revising, you should be, you’ve got a test tomorrow to revise. So I've got very sort of a lot of inner conflict in my family as well. 


Dr Jessica Boland  26:08

How do you try and try and manage that? Are you more like kind of I will take the breaks or I'll try my best to take their breaks? Or can you?


Ellie  26:15

Well, my father's away quite a few times because he works sort of abroad. So it’s only when he's like home that I get to sort of why aren't you working? So I usually have a quite good work life balance. Yeah, I know, it's I know, it's good to study as well, because it's gonna get me where I need to be. And yeah, I'd say it's not that stressful. But it is a bit stressful sometimes.


Dr Jessica Boland  26:39

I can imagine around exam period time as well, that can get more stressful. But yeah.


Ellie  26:45

We find your job amazing. We think that's great. And was there anyone that was sort of a major part of you getting you there? Or was there any sort of major inspiration that got you to where you are today?


Dr Jessica Boland  26:57

I think there's been a lot of people along my path to getting this job. Usually people go, Oh, Marie Curie has always been my role model and things like that. Right? I would have said that, that it's the people around me, people that I wouldn't have expected that has been a lot of kind of inspiration, and support. My parents were great inspiration. Neither of them are scientists. My mom's a schoolteacher. And my dad works as a kind of business manager. But my dad was really, really technical. And my mum as well, kind of just around the house and curious and experiments. So I'd say that that was quite inspiring for me. And their work ethic was inspiring, and I wouldn't have got where I am today if hey hadn't supported me along the way. My maths teacher is the reason I chose physics. Mine was great. And she was like, I was enjoying maths, and I was like, I think I didn't know what I wanted to do, by the way at A level. So don't panic, if it takes a while to work out exactly what you want to do at uni. I went between Latin, to German to French to maths. And then the maths teacher was like you love problem solving. If you do a maths degree, you will get bored. So you need to have a real life application, go and do physics. And it was the best advice she's given. She hated physics by the way. She did a maths and physics degree. She loved maths hated physics. But I think that's why she was particularly inspirational, because she could see the bit she didn't like about physics, I would really enjoy. And it was that real world application. And she said you'd never get bored and I haven't got bored. So definitely, like kudos to her. She was right. And she was quite an inspiration. And then during undergrad, quite a few different lecturers who supported me, the one who I did my research project with who's called Professor Sambols. He was president of the Institute of Physics at one point, he was super cool man. And but he gave me kind of a love for research. And then my PhD supervisor, who's Professor Michael Johnston at Oxford, he really influential because when you do a PhD, basically spend three or four years of your life with that one person who's directing your research. And they kind of say that they become like research parents. It's so true. If he listens to this, this will be a very embarrassing, but it is true. He was like a father figure in kind of research. So those PhD supervisors become quite inspirational and influential. And he also shared a group with his wife, who was another physicist, and she was pretty impressive as well. And while she didn't necessarily directly supervise my research, she was kind of there in the background. So I had a role model that I could look at and go she's made it, that's cool. Let’s go. So I'd say that those people and there's several people around me at work now who also are good friends and support me. So you might not have that one poster person, if that makes sense. But there's lots of small, local people who are really inspirational. And that's been those role models for me.


Tamina  30:11

Do you have any advice for like teenagers getting into physics? 


Dr Jessica Boland  30:16

Just enjoy it and explore as much as you can. Because when you kind of going, it's a great degree to study, it's really, really interesting. And I would say that kind of enjoy the topics, kind of enjoy them and pursue those. So if you want to get into research or academia, you need a very focused topic that you're going to enjoy for most of your life. Try as much when you're doing your degree to find that kind of topic you like, and just explore it. And being a scientist is all about asking why. So feel free to do that in all aspects of your life. Be curious, would be my advice. Be curious and keep doing it while it's fun would be kind of what I would say.


Ellie  31:00

Sort of looping back to your PhD. I didn't really know what that meant. I knew it was like, Doctor on your name. But I was and then we looked through it was your PhD funded or unfunded? And how did it all go really?


Dr Jessica Boland  31:14

Mine was funded, I don't think I would have been able to do a PhD if it wasn't funded. So that was really important thing. I should also say that I got a financial scholarship in my undergrad as well, which made a massive difference to which university I picked and be studied. So that was important. When people self on their PhDs, that's very expensive to do, I don't recommend it. So I would say do a funded PhD studentship, make sure that funding’s there, because it's three or four years of your life, and you need that financial security while you're doing the research. So I was really lucky, mine was funded by a Research Council that's funded by the government and most PhD studentships for home students are funded. So there's quite a lot of funding out there for that, that you can apply for. It's quite rare if you're a home UK student to have an unfunded studentship. And if someone offers you an unfunded studentship, don't take it, ask them for the money, it would be what I would definitely say. And that's something I'm actually campaigning for, anyway, is that the funding for PhD studentships should be higher than it is right now. Because I think they're so we're so skilled individuals that we should be paid appropriately. So that's something I'm campaigning for. What I'd also say is, if you get to a point where you're thinking of doing a PhD, and you can't find a funded studentship, do not panic, because you can always come back and do a PhD. So you can go into industry, earn some money, get a good job. And there are some schemes with industry to pursue a PhD on a longer term in industry as well. And you can always have a career in industry and then come back to do a PhD if it's really what you want to do later on. So there's loads of different alternative routes,


Tamina  33:18

Going back to your day to day life. What's like your favourite part of the day? Like, what's the part that you most excited for in your day?


Dr Jessica Boland  33:28

Being in the lab 100%. Most people will tell you this, as well, it's the most fun part. So I desperately try and get into the lab every day. It's not always achievable, because there's other aspects of the role like teaching and admin. But I love playing with my lasers. And that will always be my love. So I treat them like babies. So my lasers have names, I talk to them. I know that sounds strange, that that's the bit that keeps me excited.


Tamina  33:57

One of like like the major questions that I was thinking when I saw that you did work with lasers, how do the lasers improve technology?


Dr Jessica Boland  34:05

How we use the lasers is we need to be able to say how conductive a material is, so how good it will be in your device. And it's kind of a bit counterintuitive, because you think that a laser is quite powerful that they just blow up the material right and damage the material. And that can often happen. If you have a really high power and a really short timescale, you can certainly damage materials. And this is actually used in manufacturing. If we kind of change the energy in a pulse of that laser, you can put the laser on a material without damaging it. Although it could still be quite high power, i can be other wavelengths that has less energy. So if you think about visible light, and there's infrared light, that's heat, terahertz that I like which is in the airport scanners, that type of radiation. And when you kind of move to the infrared/terahertz range where you’re kind of in the heat energy, each individual laser pulse will have less energy, each photon, each thing that we hit has slightly less energy. The average energy can be really high. So you have loads of these pulses hitting in a short period of time, you can have really, really kind of high average energy, but the energy in one single pulse is quite, quite low. That means that we don't damage your material. The kind of light, some of it will be absorbed, but some of it will also get through the material. And it's that what gets through, that tells us how conductive it is. So essentially, if less of our terahertz light gets through, your material absorbs, it absorbs a lot of that light. And that happens, usually when something's very conductive, which will may not be great in a device. If it gets through the terahertz, it's, it's not as conductive, and then it's not going to be good in your device. So that's kind of essentially how are we using lasers, we're using them to create those types of light or radiation in a certain wave length range, that sensitive to if your device is going to be conductive or not, if that kind of makes a little bit of sense.


Ellie  36:15

If you've got into Oxford University, I'm sure you've got really good grades in A Levels and GCSEs. And how did you revise for that? Or was there any sort of major sort of good study tips?


Dr Jessica Boland  36:26

Oh, I absolutely loved mind maps, by the way, colourful mind maps were my revision thing. So that's me was helpful. So I take a topic. So let's say that I take the topic of electricity in physics, and then I'd make a mind map for that particular topic. I try and think of all the key concepts and maybe circuit diagrams will be one branch, for example, power, might be a second branch. And I loved those colourful mind maps, and I would have a different colour for each little sub topic. This is an I'm such a nerd, and I love organisation, and I love my colourful file tip pens, but it really worked for me, because I associated the colour with that subtopic when I was trying to recall the information. The other thing I did was replaced posters in my bedroom with equations. So I had all of the equations on post it notes with different colours, and I had them stuck around my bedroom wall. So I'd wake up, and I'd be like, Ah, I've seen the equation for E=MC2. So instead of boybands, I had equations on my wall, I did that throughout the whole of my undergraduate degree, as well. And my PhD and it worked quite well for me in terms of you see the equation over and over again. So those were kind of my two main things that I used to do for  A Level. And I do a lot of work examples as well, as the past papers, the style of questions over and over again. And I try not to do this on my own as well. So try and get friends together and do it with chocolate and Pringles, which was my favourite revision food. So yeah, so we'd always get like a tub of Pringles, some chocolate, and then do the questions together. And that helped, because if I got stuck, one of my friends would know how to solve it. So I really think that kind of group revision was a good way round. How do you two revise at the moment? Do you have any cool tips?


Ellie  38:27

Well we always sort of try and get together and try not to panic really. Yeah, I’ve recently actually been making mind maps. So yeah, that's quite helpful to know that it's a good strategy to use.


Tamina  38:38

I started now doing flashcards, I don't know because I normally would just write down everything I knew. And then check it, like, go to the CGP book and check it. But now I started doing like, flashcards so I could put the, what I knew down, check it and then afterwards test offers myself. 


Dr Jessica Boland  39:00

Yeah that's great. That's fantastic. That's really good. Yeah, one of the other things that I forgot I did, and I started doing some tutoring in math recently was I used to tell myself, there's a there's a mug that does this as well like y=x2 as a dance move. So like this is a dance move for y=x2. And I used to try and think of weird concepts like that as well. So I created alter egos for sin x and cos x. So I told myself that sin x was the nice one, that was the angel and cos x was the demon, and for a lot of the trigonometric functions, which you'll see in A Level, cos used to always sit next to sin, so I was like the demon has to get on top of the angel, it’s trying to change the angel every time. So I used to kind of create like little stories in my head as well about things in maths and things in physics to try and help me remember the story to remember equations, which is kind of a strange way I guess of revising, but I found it quite helpful.


Ellie  40:01

I see tan x as like steam, because to me, it looks like steam. That's how I remember it.


Dr Jessica Boland  40:06

Anything visual and stories is really helpful. I'm going to take that one down actually, that tan x is like steam. That's brilliant. I like that. I was just like this dance move. Like, they go they go, but that's brilliant. I'm going to keep that one because I'm… good stuff.


Tamina  40:24

We do, for equations of physics we create, like, a word or like a phrase. Yeah, like QUIT for Q=It.


Dr Jessica Boland  40:34

Yeah, like vi=p, right? The voltage times current equals power… VIP. Brilliant! See, we use the same techniques. This is fantastic. And I've learned something new today as well. I just was kind of interested in what you were thinking of actually for A levels and kind of what you're hoping to do? It's not a stressful question. You can completely go I have no idea. But it would be nice to kind of ask you that I think.


Tamina  41:01

For me, I'm choosing to do chemistry, physics, math and further math.


Ellie  41:06

Yeah. Repeating maths further maths, physics and biology, though. 


Dr Jessica Boland  41:11

Yeah that's cool. That's brilliant. Yeah, there's a lot in like biophysics, quantum biology, there's a great field. Even mixing the chemistry and they're all interdisciplinary, which means that you could basically… I'm actually in an electrical engineering department, although I did physics, so you can change as well. So it's great to hear that you've got a little bit of all of it in as well.


Izzy  41:31

Thank you for joining another STEM Untapped podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, then subscribe for free on your podcast app. You can follow us on Instagram @STEMuntapped. If you know of a school or group of students who would like to interview female or non-binary role models do get in touch. Likewise, if you know of anyone who would be a great role model then let us know. Our details are all documented in the show notes.