After School Helen studied for an MPhys Physics degree at Durham University, where she discovered her passion for Astronomy. Following this she took a gap year, and meeting Brian Cox was her gap year highlight! Helen is now studying for her PHD in Astronomy at Durham University.

How would you describe your time at The Blue Coat?

I absolutely loved my time at Blue Coat – I only wish I could have been there a full 7 years! We definitely had that ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra instilled in us right from the start, and there was always something exciting to get involved with. I remember laughing a lot. I always enjoy coming back to visit.

How did your experience at The Blue Coat prepare you for your career?

Even though I was only there for 2 years, Blue Coat made a real impression on me. I don’t think I would’ve taken the path that I have, had I not come to the school, so I owe a lot. My teachers inspired me to think big and aim high, to have confidence in myself, to be curious and ask plenty of ‘silly questions’. It was so refreshing to be taught extra material, purely because it was something exciting they thought we would be interested in, and not just rote learning what was on our syllabus. There were plenty of fun impromptu science experiments – not all of which went to plan! We were encouraged to be inquisitive, and that’s been so valuable in my career so far.

What has been your path since leaving The Blue Coat?

After Blue Coat I studied for an MPhys Physics degree at Durham University, where I discovered my passion for Astronomy. Hard work but I loved every minute of it. Following this I took a gap year – seizing the chance to travel and explore, gain plenty of new experiences, and accept exciting internship positions. I worked at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics near Berlin, and with research staff at the University of Manchester. I also started to become more involved with outreach and public science events, something that has since meant lots of fun playing with infrared cameras, inflatable planetariums and meeting Brian Cox!

What do you do now?

Back in Durham I’m now studying for a PhD in Astronomy. Using the world’s largest and most sophisticated telescopes we are able to glimpse our Universe at it was billions of years ago – extreme and dynamic with intense bursts of star formation, black hole activity and merging galaxies. My research is all the more exciting in that I have opportunity to travel to telescopes in exotic places. I recently observed at the world’s most advanced telescope, the VLT in Chile, an unbelievable trip! Experiencing science at its most cutting-edge, studying what others may never have looked at before – that will never get old for me.

What would be your advice to students at The Blue Coat today?

Don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone and try lots of new things; you never know where it might take you. If there’s something you would love to do then be fearless, be cheeky and don’t take no for an answer. If you’re determined and hard-working, then chances are you can make it a reality.

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