"Cycling home after a busy day at work and looking out over Mont Blanc makes me smile every time!" Meet Hannah, Fellow in Computer Security at CERN

HI Hannah, tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to CERN?

If I had to choose a hometown it would be Bath, a small city in the south west of England, but in reality I have spent my life moving from place to place and country to country.  Initially I travelled for my Dad’s job and, more recently, because I seem to have caught the travel bug too! My latest adventure has been to join CERN as a Fellow in the Computer Security team.

 The path here has been unorthodox and surprising. 10 years ago I never would have imagined that I’d be working at CERN, although it was a journey to CERN that sparked it all off... in 2007 I came on a school trip for teenagers considering studying physics at University. That visit made me decide to take the plunge. I studied physics at Imperial College London and, since that wasn’t far enough, spent a year at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands on an Erasmus exchange. I specialised in computational astrophysics and discovered that it was the computing aspect that I wanted to continue after my studies. Thanks to an event called “IT’s not just for the boys” I realised how many companies were looking for scientists to work in software and started my first job back in London.

 After a few years I moved to Geneva and took a role as a technology consultant. Consulting was not the job for me - however, I learnt many skills and gained a clearer idea of the sort of job I wanted. I applied to CERN as a Fellow and was over the moon to start in September 2015. Two years on and all is going well, I’m looking forward to starting a Staff position in the new year.

What do you do at CERN today?

My position here is twofold; I represent CERN in a project funded by the European Commission for secure collaboration for researchers, and I participate in day-to-day operational computer security. I feel extremely lucky to have interesting work, responsibility, and the freedom to follow projects that will benefit the organisation. I’ll admit the job description was intimidating but I’m glad every day that I accepted.

 1 month into my fellowship I was fortunate to attend a conference in the US and, on the advice of my supervisor, submitted a last minute abstract for a 5 minute lightning talk. Of course, on the first day of the conference I was told that my abstract had been selected and asked if I could urgently submit my slides (what slides???). After 2 days of mild panic, patient support from my supervisor and a lot of coffee, I stood up in front of 700 people and talked for 4 minutes 59 seconds! Despite being terrifying, this gave me the confidence and exposure to start building a tight network of international collaborators with whom I work every day to build trust and security.

What is working at CERN like for you?

Cycling home after a busy day at work and looking out over Mont Blanc makes me smile every time. To be able to play even a small part in such a mammoth scientific effort gives me a huge amount of job satisfaction, and to do it with inspiring colleagues in a beautiful setting is the cherry on the cake.

 Integrating at CERN hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The culture is very specific; the “English” is its own dialect and it takes a while to realise that the most effective meetings are often “Coffees” in the restaurant, or that you really can just pick up the phone and talk to an expert on a particular topic. The pace of life at CERN is stereotypically academic and people will need to be 100% convinced by something, e.g. a new IT project, to go ahead. Knowing your stuff inside out is critical.  

 One aspect I particularly enjoy is the opportunity to do training courses. I’ve attended a mix of professional skills modules on media skills and leadership, as well as virtual machine configuration and even the 2 week, residential CERN School of Computing. On top of this I’m taking French classes - bien sur! - and finding a home in the local community.

And any advice you’d give to potential applicants…

Even if an opportunity at CERN sounds daunting, take the risk! Everybody can find a place here and make their mark. Why not try something new? So many people are working in domains outside their field of study and the organisation is stronger for it - diversity in thinking has an impact.

​Find out more about the various student, graduate and professional opportunities at CERN on careers.cern. Take part!