My journey of three decades at CERN, and achieving an ultimate academic goal

Guest post by Manjit Kaur - Panjab University, India

My professional career started from Assistant Professor in 1984 at Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. I became Professor in 2002 and superannuated in 2019. 
On the 7th of March 2024, I received the award of the highest degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Physics by one of the most prestigious universities of India. Incidentally, I was the second recipient and the first woman to earn this degree in the history of this university.  
A four-year process to success  
A Doctor of Science is a "higher doctorate" awarded by some universities, and in order to qualify for D.Sc., one is required to have attained a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). My motivation stemmed from a zeal to achieve academic excellence. This distinction held particular significance for me, as no one had been conferred this award in the preceding 45 years, making it a rare honour! Driven by these aspirations, I embarked on this challenging and rewarding journey [1] in May 2020, culminating in the award of the DSc four years later. 
How everything started... 
Manjit Kaur, DScMy journey in High Energy Physics (better known as particle physics at that time) began in 1976. My decision to pursue physics came from two different reasons. First, Ms. Suksham Aggarwal, my physics teacher in Bachelor program was a great inspiration. Second, my father’s assertion that Physics Department of Panjab University was a great place of learning helped me in making the choice. He was a civil engineer and was supervising the construction of the building for Cyclotron installation in the Physics department during that time. While working for Master’s dissertation, scanning through the Bubble-Chamber films and measuring the tracks formed by the elementary particles was a fascinating and inspiring experience, though intriguing! The discovery of J/ψ particle in 1976 motivated me to join Ph. D in high energy physics.  Little did I know that one day I will be fortunate to work at the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) in the team led by the discoverer of J/ψ, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. S.C.C. Ting. The work began with the scanning of a very unique stack of emulsion plates which was exposed to a pion beam in a strong pulsed magnetic field, brought from Moscow by my Supervisor Prof. J.M. Kohli for the study. It took me four years to collect enough data to produce five publications in peer reviewed international journals, and receiving the Ph. D in 1981.  
LEP - a great scientific endeavour to begin with 
In 1988, a new particle accelerator called the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider started operating at CERN. In August 1988, I went to Germany to participate in the XXIV International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP).  I met Prof. A. Ali from DESY who was looking for people for appointment as research Associates to work in the L3 experiment. I had a detailed discussion with him about the research work I was doing using emulsion stacks in collaboration with Uppsala University, Sweden. He told me that he would be happy to recommend my name. These positions were funded by the International Centre for Scientific Culture-World Laboratory, Switzerland, under the leadership of Prof. Antonini Zichichi. I was overjoyed to receive the offer within a month and the opportunity of working at CERN. It was also a moment of great anxiety as I had never worked in such a big experiment. Amazingly, the Spokesperson of the L3 collaboration was Prof. S.C.C. Ting.  I joined the project in November 1989, my first footsteps on the CERN soil and the commencement of my journey in the realm of international collaborations began. I worked in this collaboration until 2003, participating in the L3 detector related activities, data taking shifts, computing shifts and physics analysis mostly related to quantum chromodynamics (QCD) studies.  
From LEP to LHC - a big leap  

By the year 1997, the planning for the world’s biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, was already shaping up.  LEP was scheduled to stop its operations by the end of year 2000 and it was time for L3 to come to an end. Research and development work for five major experiments proposed for LHC had started.  In 1998, the Indian Scientists were invited to contribute to two major experiments: CMS and ALICE.  Scientists from Panjab University, Delhi University, TIFR and BARC, India came together to work for the CMS experiment. Therefore from 2000 onwards I joined the CMS Collaboration.

Over the next ten years, I was working in building parts of the CMS detector, the fabrication of tiles of scintillating material embedded with optical fibre and the read-out electronics for the Outer Hadron Calorimeter (HO). Simulation studies along with the participation in the hardware installation of the detector continued. The first physics studies started in 2010, as soon as the collision data started becoming available for analysis.  My major focus was on the study of QCD (Quantum Chromo Dynamics) in hadronic production.  
The most exciting moment of my career came on 4 July 2012. CMS experiment and the ATLAS experiment both were about to announce   discovery of the Higgs Boson.  I was in Canada on a personal visit. Early morning, 4 a.m. I was glued to the laptop screen, watching the webcast from CERN. My son sitting next to me was more curious than me! He was a student of 3rd year ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) program in the university of Waterloo, Canada. From the age of 1-15 years, he had made several visits to CERN accompanying me. I received numerous calls from Indian Media, Newspapers, TV etc. throughout the day answering questions on the discovery. And half of the time explaining why it was called the ‘God particle’ and conveying that it had no link with mythological origin! The Indian media attention was overwhelming. Being a part of the discovery team was a mere fortune. CERN created a history of its scientific excellence! Though Higgs Boson was discovered, finding it was not the end of the road.  It mandated a multitude of further studies. 
Since 2012, I have contributed both on the hardware of CMS HCAL and on the analysis, with a specific focus on Standard Model and beyond Standard Model physics studies. 
Between 2007 and 2021, I had successfully supervised 10 PhD students who completed their work on the CMS experiment. One enthusiastic student is currently continuing their research. All these students had visited CERN many times and have learnt skills which will take them a long way in their career. I thoroughly enjoy my role as a supervisor and have tried to always keep a close interaction with my graduate students. Infact, I love mentoring and interacting with students of every stage, junior or senior. Incidentally a student from a far-off place in India started interacting with me three years back when he was a student of grade 10 (around 15-16 years old)!  He is now associated with me, learning many new concepts. He is brilliant, currently a student of B.Sc., he has also done a course on nuclear physics from CERN. He hopes to visit CERN one day as a summer student. 
Knowledge Dissemination by building a HEP-enthusiasts cluster 
Since 2016, I had been receiving several requests from Master students from different institutions to learn about LHC, CMS and high energy physics in general, by undertaking a short-term research project with me. After my retirement in 2019, I could not engage any new student for CMS work due to university’s rule. But I was determined to continue with my work! 
At this juncture I decided to create a ‘National Cluster’ of such HEP enthusiasts and work on phenomenological problems using open-access Hep Data. Another faculty member, who worked on a different accelerator for her Ph.D. under my supervision, joined hands in this novel approach! The very first year 3 students from different National Institutes of Eminence (prestigious Indian universities) joined. Currently we have 8 students in this group.   
We all work online, having bi-weekly meetings, and each student is aiming for a publication in one of the good peer reviewed journals.  In the last three years, we have published 4 papers in Physical Review D. These students get trained in collider physics studies and simulations and get ready to start in Ph. D. program.  Four students have gone for LHC experiments. This venture has given me a sense of ‘giving back to society’ in addition to keep pursuing my research interests. This has been a very satisfying experience. Our plans are to add more students to the group and work on innovative ideas.

Standing on the horizon of my academic career, I thank the Almighty for blessing me with means, wisdom, strength and perseverance enabling me to pursue my dreams in high energy physics research, mentoring, and the award of the highest degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Physics.  

Degree award ceremony, 7 March 2024

For a woman, determined to make a career in science and research may require some compromises at personal level which by no means should act as a deterrent.  One needs to own a sense of purpose, the power to focus, to persevere and not be let down by any hardship or adversity. Along with striking a balance in personal and professional life, a strong determination helps in going forward. I personally have gone through several difficult stages in my long career. While lying down with COVID, the idea of going ahead for D.Sc. came to my mind. Fortunately, as always, a very strong family support saved me and kept my motivation alive. The unconditional, unwavering support and the pivotal role of my husband Dr. B.S. Lal in my journey has been the greatest blessing of my life.
A total time span of 30 years at CERN has been extremely satisfying, helping me to learn professionalism, in addition to particle physics at the forefront of technology and extreme engineering. I am grateful to Professor A. Zichichi, for giving me the life time opportunity, financial grant and academic facilities to make a beginning at CERN! And to government of India for generous grants to participate in the CMS experiment over a period of 20 years. 


[1] The process I followed to earn a DSc:  
i)  I sent a request letter and my CV to the Vice-Chancellor seeking permission to submit the research work done for the award of D.Sc. 
ii)  Vice -Chancellor constituted a 3-member committee of experts from Physical Sciences to check the merit of the case. After an interaction with the committee, I was asked to update the CV. 
iii) Permission was granted for compiling my publications and other material as below:  
     a) my important publications preferably with limited number of authors (3-10) 
     b) very few publications from the collaborations, I have worked for. 
     c) Any books (edited/written) 
     d) Conferences/symposia. National/international where I presented paper or chaired a session. 
     e) Any Journal with role as Editor/Asst. Editor 
     f) Membership of Professional bodies in which I assumed any special role as (President/Vice-President etc) 
     g) Talks/training sessions under Outreach program 
     h) Research Project grants received from Government agencies 
     i) Ph.D. thesis Supervised or co-Supervised 
     j) Master dissertations supervised 
     k)  etc. 
iv)   Submitted 3-copies of the compilation as a bound volume after a period of 6 months from the date of permission letter. 
v)  Vice-Chancellor and the expert Committee decided Reviewers for the thesis; 2-International Professors and one national Professor. The thesis was sent to these three examiners. 
Confidential reports were received after a period of 3 months  
vi)  The reports were presented by the Vice-Chancellor to the 10-member Apex body of the University (Syndicate). Reports were read, considered and approved on the basis of the recommendations of the reviewers. 
V) As a final step, University issued a notification. 
vi) The degree was awarded in the University Convocation by the Vice-President of India, who is also the Chancellor of Panjab University. 

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