Alex Brown

Alex Brown

Geneva, Switzerland

I’ve always found it fascinating to understand how something works and I want to share that feeling with everyone else!

Learning at CERN

Alex works at CERN - he is PhD student in physics education research. He lets teachers and students know how the stuff they learn at school relates to some of the world's biggest physics experiments, and helps teachers find better ways to teach.

What do you do in your job?

I work at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which is the biggest physics lab in the world and home of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

Thousands and thousands of high school students visit CERN with their teachers every year. My job is to study the teachers leading those trips, to find out why they are so keen! This means I design questionnaires for the teachers to take before and after they visit, as well as interview them while they are here. I spend some days doing experiments with teachers and students in S’Cool LAB, our hands-on learning space, helping them to understand how the stuff they learn in school relates to the big experiments they hear about going on at CERN. At other times, I get to read research papers to keep up to date with the latest ideas in my field. Then there are loads of opportunities for other projects like volunteering for big public events as well.

How do you use science in your job?

The experiments we do in S’Cool LAB with school groups rely on really fundamental laws of physics – how X-rays pass through different types of material, for example. Or how different materials behave differently depending on the temperature. We get to see some pretty weird effects, like magnets that float in mid-air!

What is your role within the team?

As well as leading some of the lab sessions for the visiting school groups, I help teachers prepare their students for their visits using an online learning platform. That way, they can make the most of their time here and get stuck in the minute they arrive. I’m also the only native English speaker in the team, so I’m often the one checking my team-mates’ spelling! I enjoy it though, because it means I get to find out what they’re working on before anyone else! CERN is a really international environment, so it’s important to speak several languages around here.

If you had to summarise the impact your job has on everyday life – what would you say in two sentences?

By studying what motivates teachers to bring their students on field trips to places like CERN, we can find out how to make those trips even better in the future. That way, students will get the best experience of life outside the classroom and will have a better way of deciding what to do with their lives once they’re older.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Meeting and working with physics teachers and their students – they are just so inspiring!

What did you study at school?

I grew up in France, so I did a baccalauréat. In France, you have to take all subjects until the very end of school, but you get to choose which ones will count more towards your final mark. I picked physics and chemistry as the most important, then biology and maths. But languages, history, geography and philosophy weren’t far behind!

What inspired you into your career?

I’ve always found it fascinating to understand how something works and I want to share that feeling with everyone else! So when I got the chance to work with teachers, I leapt at the chance.

What five top tips would you have for people wanting a job like yours?

  • Ask everyone you meet about what they are interested in
  • Practice a hobby where you get to meet lots of different people
  • Study as many different subjects as you can
  • Learn as many languages as possible
  • Always be on the look-out for your next opportunity, you never know where it might come from!

 

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