Thomas North

MSci Physics and Astrophysics, 2014; PhD Astrophysics, 2018
Physics Teacher, Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, Norwich

I'm currently teaching A level Physics at a science and engineering specialist sixth form in Norwich, having completed my PGCE and teaching training through a SCITT course to gain more experience in the classroom during the training year.

As a part of my training I also taught part of my PhD to a select number of Year 9 students to promote university education. This is on the behalf of a charity called the Brilliant Club and their Researchers in Schools scheme. Since then, I've continued to promote the study of physics to my A level students and give them regular talks on a range of astrophysics topics that they request. So far we've covered: astrobiology, black holes, the Fermi paradox, and how to divert asteroids!

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

I did my undergraduate in Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Birmingham, then my PhD at Birmingham also, graduating in 2018. I wanted a bit of change of career and scene, so instead of going into research and further academia, I decided to be a science school teacher with a strong physics specialism and now teach A level physics. Going into my fourth year of teaching, I’m still enjoying it greatly.

Thomas North headshot

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?

Getting to give back some of my knowledge to students, in particular my enthusiasm for science and space. The questions A level students will ask are always surprising so it keeps me on my toes! I'm hoping to inspire a few more keen minds to take up the study of (astro)physics.

What motivates you?

I was the first generation in my family to go to university or get a Master’s or PhD. I want to encourage students and children who might not believe that university education is 'for them'. Coming from a working class background and a demographic similar to the area I'm now working and teaching in, I found the transition to university a little difficult at times. I want to encourage academically capable students to apply to university and to help dispel any misconceptions they may have about university life

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

For my undergraduate degree it was the course description with a clear map of available modules I could take and the geographical location - relatively close to my parents’ house, but far enough away they couldn't just drop by! For my PhD it was my supervisor in my Master’s year (Professor Bill Chaplin); I really enjoyed working with him and wanted to continue that.

We Are (Third Width)

What are your fondest memories of the University?

Probably the Physics Society (PPS) spring ball. They were always fun and it was good to see the lecturers with their hair down. Other than that, probably OId Joe and some of the travelling I was able to do during my PhD. The friends I made at university throughout the eight years I was there will remain with me too.

How did you grow as a person by coming to University

I developed academically of course, but also socially. I am much more confident in crowds and groups now, but also no longer feel lonely when I am working alone, something that definitely helped during the pandemic and teaching classes online from home.

What did you think of the learning experience within the University? 

I most value the knowledge I gained at university and the ability to teach undergraduates during my PhD. That made me realise I enjoy teaching, something that surprised me a little at the time, and helped to inspire me to change career to teaching.

What inspired you most during your time as a student?

As an undergraduate it was probably the lecturers within astrophysics and the knowledge I needed to pass well to go on to achieve my dream of getting a PhD. During my PhD, my inspiration was probably my supervisor, who always seemed to find time for me if I needed to talk to him, and also helped me through a couple of tricky academic situations. He wasn't stuffy either (he thinks he's a student still at heart I think!) and just an all round great guy!

Thomas' top tip for physics students

“Work hard, sleep hard and make sure you keep time for lots of fun. Physics is a tough and rewarding course but your health and happiness are paramount.”