Zahin Ali

Zahin Ali

What have you been doing since finishing your studies? 

After graduating in 2020 I started working at the National Physical Laboratory as a research scientist in the Quantum Technologies group. Truthfully, I had never considered a career in research during my degree. I wanted to go into science policy but graduating during the pandemic meant that I had to be more open minded. I came across the opportunity at NPL and was interested by the role and unique organisation, so I went for it. I’m really glad I didn’t completely rule out working in a lab, as it’s really different to what I imagined, I’m learning so much and really enjoying it.

What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve? 

I work at the National Physical Laboratory, which is the UK’s National Metrology Institute. This means it sets the standards for measurements, like defining how much a kilogram is, or how we measure the effects of climate change.

Alongside its work in fundamental science, NPL also does a lot of commercial work, testing and evaluating products and technologies which are being brought to the market by other companies – and this is where I mainly sit, testing quantum computing hardware designed and built by external organisations. NPL works in every area of science you can imagine (healthcare, energy, space) but I work in the Quantum Technologies department, specifically working on scaling up superconducting quantum computers.

Every day in my role is completely different. I could be programming a new instrument, setting up an experiment with qubits in dilution refrigerators, analysing measurement data, soldering wires together or designing equipment I need built using CAD.

As NPL is the National Metrology Institute for the UK, it also plays a role in informing and shaping science policy at the government level, which means I’ve also had the opportunity to be involved in some of this work too. Specifically, I’ve been working on a programme that’s looking at readying the UK’s workforce with the skills and training it needs in preparation for the ‘quantum revolution’ that will begin as technologies reach commercialisation in the coming years. This project has been so interesting as I’ve got to meet a lot of the key stakeholders in quantum technologies around the world and it has opened my eyes to the wider impact my research will have on UK industry.

What experiences at Leeds have particularly helped with your career?

I did my final research project in collaboration with Futamura, a global company that makes biodegradable packaging. My project involved testing and characterising their films and making recommendations about how the mechanical properties can be improved. As my role at NPL heavily involves testing and evaluating the products made by companies, this project helped me gain the skills and experience I needed for this role, such as independently managing a research project, metrology skills, uncertainty analysis and commercial awareness. During the recruitment process for the role I’m currently in, I had to give a presentation on a scientific project I’ve worked on, so my Masters’ project was perfect to talk about and showed I had the relevant skills.

I also wrote for the science column of the The Gryphon, the official newspaper of the University of Leeds while I was a student, which has piqued the interest of recruiters as evidence of strong written communication skills are always important in any role or industry.

Looking back, why did you choose to study at the University of Leeds? 

I always loved physics at school and when it came to choosing a university course I was initially going to go for an engineering course. But when I looked at the modules taught in physics – astronomy, quantum mechanics, particle physics – they excited me much more than the sound of the engineering modules, so I chose to apply for physics instead.

I chose Leeds because of its amazing reputation as a Russell Group university and also because I had friends who spoke so highly of their time there – really feeling like part of a greater community, which I can also attest to now that I’ve graduated. On the train back from my applicants’ day at Leeds, a woman even saw the University of Leeds pack I was holding and told me she is alumna of Leeds and had the best time there – so I had a lot of reason to believe I’d be happy at Leeds!

What’s the most important thing you learned during your time at university?

Work hard play hard! I learned that no one ever produces their best work by working 24/7 and it’s important to have a good uni work/life balance. Leeds is a highly achieving university, but everyone also knows how to relax, destress and have fun, which is so important for your wellbeing and is also a fundamental part of the university experience. Making sure I made time to socialise after a long shift in the library is what got me through my degree and allowed me to make amazing friends and memories during my time at Leeds.

Would you recommend your course to others? 

Physics is a challenging but rewarding subject to study. It has allowed me to gain such a deep understanding of the universe which most people will never have! A physics degree allows you to gain so many different skills that opens career prospects in any industry you can imagine. The course is also so varied with so many different types of modules. In addition to core maths and physics modules, I took modules in science communication, science education, climate science, philosophy and computer programming. These were all taught and assessed in different, stimulating ways so my days were never just filled with hours of lectures.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with new students?

I had such a wonderful time at Leeds, and although university is challenging in many ways, the Physics and Astronomy faculty really do go above and beyond to make sure you are supported and can achieve your absolute best whilst enjoying your time and preparing for your future career.