Orion reception

Best Practice Award winners share their experiences: AWE

Orion reception
Orion reception

At AWE, we’re responsible for providing and maintaining Trident nuclear warheads in support of the UK’s nuclear deterrence programme, and employ many physicists with different technical backgrounds, in diverse roles.

We also use our expertise to support national nuclear security. Physics-based roles at AWE require significant in-house training to enable staff to acquire the skills and knowledge to undertake technical work. Professional development is fundamentally important to our continued success.

Professional development of physicists at AWE is overseen by the head of profession for physics and mathematics (HoPP), Colin Danson, an AWE Distinguished Scientist and a fellow of the Institute of Physics who has spent his career designing, constructing and operating high-power lasers including AWE’s Orion facility (pictured above). He’s supported by a cross-discipline team of volunteers, of which I am one. We provide assistance and encouragement to all AWE’s physicists who want to develop their professional skills, including those working towards professional registration.

The HoPP team organise a technical mentoring scheme whereby physicists are encouraged to team up with an experienced mentor. Irrespective of what stage of their career they’re at, AWE physicists have found this an effective way of learning from their more experienced peers. We’ve found it a great way to introduce people working across different job areas, who often work with similar technical tools to solve diverse scientific problems.

The AWE physics community also run a quarterly Physics Development Forum, which provides a mechanism for sharing best practice in mentoring, for providing tips on successful chartership applications, and for advertising internal and external development opportunities. For example, a recent meeting of the forum discussed the merits of IOP group membership, with many of our physicists providing personal accounts of how group meetings and committee work have accelerated their professional development.

AWE’s close work with UK academic partners also helps develop our physicists’ technical skills. AWE physicists are encouraged to act as industrial supervisors to PhD and master’s students. These projects are invaluable for developing tools and honing skills amongst AWE physicists that are then used in core programmes of work.

We’re proud to have won the IOP Best Practice in Professional Development Award for 2011–15 and again for 2015–18. It gives us confidence that we’re providing our physicists with the opportunities to develop the skills that they’ll require for the challenging technical work our customers demand of us.

  • The IOP Best Practice in Professional Development Awards commend, celebrate and promote the very best in training and development opportunities for physicists. If your organisation promotes the continuing professional development of its physicist employees and has a formal career pathway for physicists, enter by 30 June to get the recognition you deserve.
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David Green

David Green

David Green has worked as geophysicist in the forensic seismology team at AWE for the past 10 years. His technical work focuses on the analysis of seismic and infrasonic recordings. He is a chartered physicist, and assists the AWE head of profession for physics in supporting skills development for physicists.
David Green

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