[CMS Stories] Being a business student at the largest particle detector in the world.

Guest post by Louise Smith

When people think about the largest particle detector in the world often they will think of only physicists and possibly engineers or technicians. However, there is so much more to the international organisation than what you first may think. 

I first became aware of CERN and the experiments which happened there when I was studying physics in high school. I learned about the Higgs boson which was discovered by CMS and ATLAS in 2012 and that CERN researchers were trying to uncover how the Universe works and what it is made of. I was around 16 when I was learning this and at that point I was unsure what I actually wanted to do with my life. However, I thought the idea of working for an organisation like CERN sounded absolutely incredible. Although, a spanner was thrown in the works when I failed my physics exam - two years in a row.

From 16 in High School Until 23 at CERN.
From 16 in High School until 23 at CERN.

I still had no idea what I wanted  to do in life, but enjoying learning about business in high school I decided that it was a broad enough subject which would open a lot of doors, and then in the future I could narrow down what I wanted to do. Additionally, I also had a huge desire to experience working life outside of Scotland. With these two things in mind I decided to go to University to study International Business - because for someone who is indecisive picking one of the broadest subjects was an extremely clever idea. 

I was in the 3rd year of my degree when I began to look for internships abroad related to administrative roles. This is when I discovered that CERN offered an administrative student programme! I was around 21 at this point and I started to think back to when I was 16 learning about CERN in physics and I just had to apply! My younger self would have jumped at the opportunity. It took me around 2 months to actually submit my application because I really wanted this internship. It just had to be perfect. One day before the deadline, my application was submitted and there was nothing more I could do. Within 3 days I was offered a video interview - success?! A few weeks had passed after submitting the interview and my nerves were growing. I was constantly on Reddit and other sites searching for other applicants to see if they had had any news back - there had been no news for anyone. One month after the interview I was offered 2 positions at CERN! One in the cryogenics department and another in CMS communications. I couldn’t have been happier. The 2 months perfecting my application paid off. I choose to work within CMS communications as this job role best suited my interests and possible future career goals. 

From the application process until the start of my contract it was around seven months, it should have been sooner, however, COVID struck. We tried to push back the start date to help eliminate some of the lockdown effects in hope that measures would be eased. By the time I started in September 2020 they were somewhat eased. I was able to work on site and actually meet and interact with people (rare for 2020). A massive help moving here was the creation of a group chat on our first day for all the new students, helping us arrange plans and meet each other outside of work. My mum always told me not to meet strangers on the internet, but I guess this is different? 

Picture 1. Burger night with my flatmates: Jonas, Phillip and Carlo.  Picture 2. Night at the lake with Jonas, Grace, Gab, Timo, Angelica (original flatmate) and Ece.
Picture 1. Burger night with my flatmates: Jonas, Phillip and Carlo. 
Picture 2. Night at the lake with Jonas, Grace, Gab, Timo, Angelica (original flatmate) and Ece.

My role within CMS has been focused on communications, this includes sharing and creating content across all social media platforms, proofreading and publishing news articles, organising virtual visits for CMS and recently video editing and processing  statistics. I’m an avid user of social media so this job sounded perfect for me. Creating content for social media may sound like an easy task, but there are some moments when your brain just doesn't want to think creatively. These are the moments where I struggled most. I have managed to overcome a lot of creative ruts that I have experienced by writing down nonsense and then working from that, this allowed for my brain to begin to think creatively again and enabled me to come up with more serious thoughts. Being able to work in close proximity (figuratively speaking) with my supervisor has also been a great help to become more creative as it has been good to be able to bounce ideas off each other for certain tasks.

CMS during GEM installation
CMS during GEM installation

I saw the CMS detector in real life for the first time two weeks after starting my contract. We were invited down to the cavern to witness the installation of the first GEM chamber at CMS. We were here because we needed pictures for the latest CMS article about GEMs. I remember looking in admiration at the huge detector and how beautiful it is with the colours and thinking about the complexity behind each component. I was also looking at it in genuine confusion as I had no idea how such a large machine could detect the smallest particles in the world. I was invited down to the detector for a second time in June this year as part of a CERN Live for the installation of the CMS Pixel detector. My role during the live event was to monitor comments and choose the most interesting questions to send to the physicists, who would then be able to answer the questions live. Although my part may have been small, it felt good to help show the world the installations which were happening at CMS and being able to witness them first hand. 

CMS Live with CERN
CMS Live with CERN

I may not have been able to visit family and friends in Scotland this year, but I have been able to create memories throughout France and Switzerland with people who I have met here. We’ve had  simple nights at Lac Léman in Geneva which I will cherish, and there have been plenty of long  trips too, where we went to places like Nice, Paris, Interlaken and Zurich. Living in expensive Switzerland for a year now, my definition of  “regular” price has become warped. We had a day trip to Monaco and collectively decided as a group that 10 Euros for a singular iced coffee wasn’t expensive at all and that it was “standard”. I have also discovered a love for hiking, climbing and bouldering which I will definitely continue. Hopefully I will be able to convince my friends back home that climbing and falling off walls is a really fun sport.  

Throughout my time here and learning from those around me I have learned a lot about how the detectors at CERN work and it has only further increased my admiration for the engineers and scientists who are behind the creation of the detectors and those working to process and make sense of the data. It is nearing the end of my contract, 7 years since I was first learning about CERN, and I don’t think I am much further forward to knowing what I would like to do in life career wise. However, I do know that my time at CMS has opened my eyes to what it can be like to live and work abroad. It has also allowed me to gain experience within communications and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I will be leaving France to continue studying in Edinburgh with a Masters in International Management and Business Communications with Marketing - at least now I am starting to narrow down my subject choices! 

Picture 1. Left to right, Gab, Grace, Me, Max in Disneyland Paris.  Picture 2. Left to right, David, Me, Ece and Grace in Monaco.
Picture 1. Left to right, Gab, Grace, Me, Max in Disneyland Paris.  Picture 2. Left to right, David, Me, Ece and Grace in Monaco.

The views expressed in CMS blogs are personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent official views of the CMS collaboration.