06 July 2023: Seminar by Dr Ian Whittaker, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Date/Time: Thursday 06 July, 2023

Speaker: Dr Ian Whittaker, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Title: Assessing physics students by their public communication skills.


Many of the UK benchmark requirements for a physics degree is that students can describe what they have learned to a range of audiences. Many universities interpret this as specialist discussion only, however being able to talk to the public comes with a lot of advantages. In particular a large percentage of our undergraduates are unlikely to be interviewed by specialists in their research field, so by translating what they do to an HR person, or a manager they gain the edge over other graduates in a crowded job market. These communication skills also benefit these students during presentation of their final year projects and give them confidence as alumni to come back and talk to our current students. All things that university management consider to be a positive! I will be discussing how I run the workshop for final year astrophysics students, including training them, and what they produce as well as their grade profile in comparison to more standard assessment types. I will also discuss some of my interdisciplinary pedagogy work with biosciences, animation, and even fine art!

Link to slides


Dr Ian Whittaker is a senior lecturer and admissions tutor in the Department of Physics at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. He has held a number of postdoctoral research positions both in the UK and in New Zealand, with research starting with the European Space Agency mission Venus Express, changing to cancer research in London, Solar coronal loop tracking in St Andrews, then working with POES and DEMETER satellite data as part of an EUFP7 project on radiation belts in University of Otago, and lightning correlations with tropical cyclones. On moving back to the UK Ian was funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research to work on X-ray emission in the magnetosphere, leading to the submission of the upcoming ESA/CAS SMILE satellite mission to be launched in the next year. As a member of teaching staff at NTU Ian runs astrophysics, dissertation, and forensic science modules. He has previously held the role of year 3 tutor before becoming admissions tutor, providing pastoral care to final year students; leading to a number of university teaching awards. He regularly publishes public science articles in The Conversation with a global readership of over 4.4 million and a national award to show for it.