Universities have two basic roles: teaching and research. These two activities are closely related. For example, our research leads to an ability to teach cutting edge material to undergraduate students, and to supervise a research project in their final year of study. As well as undergraduate students, we also have postgraduates studying for masters or doctoral degrees. The latter spend some time being taught, but most of their time learning to become independent researchers, leading ultimately to a PhD thesis.
One of the rites of passage in becoming a researcher is to present your work at a conference. In my field, nuclear physics, a common place to start for a PhD student is the annual Institute of Physics Nuclear Physics conference. That took place last week, in Glasgow, and I went there to support our students, to give a talk myself, and to listen to other talks to learn about new things in the field. Conferences are generally fun affairs, though they can be a little nerve-wracking if you are talking and are not used to doing so. All the student talks I saw went well, though the scheduling meant I could not go to all the Surrey talks.
This year, the IoP nuclear physics conference was combined with the other groups in the Nuclear and Particle Division, so I also got to learn about the latest research in the other areas, including the idea that possible predictions from string theory may actually manifest themselves in strongly-correlated solid state systems, and I enjoyed learning about the latest on gravitational wave detectors.
The other aspect of conferences is a social one. It was good to meet up with my colleagues performing nuclear physics research elsewhere and chat to them over a beer about physics and other things. What luck, then, that I found a lovely vegetarian pub with great beer close to the conference. Only one of many reasons to go back to the fine city of Glasgow.