• Question: How did you get your job at CERN?

    Asked by anon-346654 on 17 Jan 2023.
    • Photo: Jonathan Edward Davies

      Jonathan Edward Davies answered on 17 Jan 2023:

      So I’m currently doing a PhD at the University of Manchester, working on a CERN experiment, and as part of that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of getting to live and work out here. So maybe not a “job” per se in my case but this is how I got here.

      When I was at school I knew I wanted to be a scientist so I took Science and Maths A-levels (Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology for a year). I applied for Physics courses at various universities and managed to get a place at Imperial College London for an integrated Masters degree in Physics with Theoretical Physics. I should say that I think that the only essential A-level you should have if you’re interested in a Physics degree is Maths- everything else you will be taught.

      At university I was very interested in Particle Physics and so when it came to choosing my Masters research project I went for one working on data from CMS (one of the big CERN experiments). I wasn’t put off enough by this experience so I decided to apply for PhDs in my final year. Again, it is not essential that you do a Particle Physics related Masters project to do a PhD in the subject- just be interested! I had lots of interviews all over the country (and not very many offers) but thankfully the University of Manchester offered me a funded place to work on LHCb (another CERN experiment).

      It is often the case with PhDs on CERN experiments that students have the opportunity of spending around a year working on-site at CERN, with accommodation paid for. And that, in brief, is how I got to be doing what I’m doing now.

    • Photo: Joel Goldstein

      Joel Goldstein answered on 17 Jan 2023:

      Only a minority of the scientists who work at CERN are actually employed by CERN. Most of us (including everyone in this Zone, I think) are employed by (or students at) universities or similar institutes. We go to CERN to use the facilities and conduct our experiments.
      The standard route to a job as a research scientist, whether at CERN or elsewhere, is via undergraduate study and then a PhD in the relevant discipline.

    • Photo: Edward Thorpe-Woods

      Edward Thorpe-Woods answered on 20 Jan 2023:

      I’m also a PhD student. Having completed my BSc and MSc in Physics, I felt I wasn’t done with studying yet. I came across an exciting PhD offer at CERN online – I thought I’d give it a go, and here I am!

      But actually, there are lots of different jobs that you can do at CERN. Everyone thinks about CERN as a physics lab, but really it’s a big engineering project used by physicists. We have many engineers and technicians – did you know that the person who ‘drives’ the Large Hadron Collider is a technician? Many of the technicians did apprenticeships rather than going to university, so you don’t have to do a degree to work at CERN. We also need a lot of people doing the same types of jobs as other big companies, such as human resources, accountants, lawyers, web developers, press officers and we even have our own fire service!

    • Photo: Vichayanun Wachirapusitanand

      Vichayanun Wachirapusitanand answered on 23 Jan 2023:

      I am also a PhD student in Physics working with CERN, but I guess my story is a bit different from everyone else.

      Since I was a high school student, I have been studying Physics in the national Physics Olympiad programme. Unfortunately, I did not make it to International Physics Olympiad, but I was not that sad because I found out that working on Physics research (even though it was on a tiny scale science project) is much more interesting than competing in Physics Olympiads. So I decided to study Physics at the bachelor’s level.

      Another interest that grew in me during high school was Machine Learning. The turning point was Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge where a machine named Watson won the game against two human champions. I was impressed by how the machine learns massive amounts of data, looks for answers and wins the game. Over time my interest in coding grew, and when I have to start working on my bachelor’s thesis, I decided that I want to combine my love for programming, working with big data, and Physics. (At that point I just can’t quit Physics. I have been studying it for so long and I can’t just throw it away from my life entirely. It’s like marriage.)

      And then I turned to High Energy Physics. It checks all the boxes that I want to do. There’s Physics. There’s big data problem. There’s also a lot of potential in Machine Learning. Therefore, I decided to work on my bachelor’s thesis on Machine Learning discriminators detecting top quark production in CMS, but it turns out that physicists at CMS already figured out how to do this with Boosted Decision Trees (BDT) at that time.

      Fast-forward to me doing PhD in High-Energy Physics, and I have been working with CMS Collaboration for a couple of years now. The reason why I said “working with” (not “working for”) is that I am not employed by CERN. I am just a PhD student from a university in Thailand, and my university is now a part of CMS Collaboration. This is why I get to be a part of one of the experiments at CERN.

      Hope this helps! If you are interested in working with experiments at CERN, you might want to start studying Physics or engineering at the undergraduate level, and then join graduate studies that work closely with CERN experiments, like ATLAS or CMS.

    • Photo: Kay Dewhurst

      Kay Dewhurst answered on 19 Sep 2023: last edited 19 Sep 2023 9:29 am

      To get my job at CERN, I applied for one of their Fellowship positions. These are 2 or 3 year contracts for people who have a PhD. My PhD was in Accelerator Physics so I know quite a lot about how accelerators are designed and the physics that makes them work.
      There used to be application rounds at CERN every 6 months (now they advertise all year round). The first time I applied I didn’t get an interview. I tried again 6 months later and that time got 3 interviews for different CERN jobs. One interview in particular went very well, I liked the sound of the project and the interviewer seemed to like me; I got the job!
      If you apply to work at CERN, and don’t succeed the first time, just try again. CERN is always looking for new people because a lot of the jobs are short-term. You don’t need a PhD to join, there are jobs at different entry levels. You can see currently available jobs on the CERN jobs pages [https://careers-at-cern.web.cern.ch/alljobs]