ESRF has helped 800 graduates obtain their diploma


This year the ESRF topped the 800-mark for the number of undergraduate and postgraduate diplomas obtained by students having carried out part or the totality of their placement in-house.

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The ESRF opens its doors and infrastructure to over 150 young people every year. Not all are here to obtain a diploma. The chance to obtain interesting and original work experience in a multicultural environment attracts a surge of summer jobs from June to September. Mimicking the diversity of the ESRF itself, candidate profiles are highly varied as is the subject of their studies or summer job placements.

Miquel Alfaras Espinas arrived at the ESRF through the ERASMUS programme and as part of a physics cursus at the University of Grenada in Spain. His three-month traineeship focusses on developing a computer simulation to predict what happens when the optical lenses used on the beamline are not properly aligned or sufficiently polished. A prediction of the effect before the start of an experiment would lead to savings in precious beamtime and money. “The facilities here at the ESRF are amazing and everyone has been very helpful. It’s a shame though that my placement falls in the middle of the accelerator shutdown. It considerably reduces the number of scientific staff on site”, says Miquel.  Although a short stint, Miquel knows that this placement will open doors for his future. “It’s easy to acquire a broadband skill set here and I’m sure that the mention of the ESRF of my CV is partly to thank for my admission to the Balearic Islands University in September”. Lucky Miquel, he’s heading straight from the ESRF to Majorca to pursue his passion for computer programming by integrating a Masters in complex systems.

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Guillaume Fleury, University of Louvain, on the set up of ID09 during the summer school programme. Credit: ESRF/C. Argoud

Max, Josh, David and Jamie, four mechanical engineering apprentices from the STFC in the UK, unanimously agreed that their experience at the ESRF had opened their eyes and widened their horizons. They no longer consider a future solely in the UK, but are aware of the possibilities that exist across Europe. And, by having plunged into a new culture, adapted and coped with a foreign language, have come out realising that it’s not really that difficult after all! To prove their point, Jamie was proud to announce that he’d just secured his first “proper” job as technician on the ATLAS Experiment at CERN in September.

 “I’ve never worked a harder three weeks in my life!” says Max Rowland, “But I’ve loved every minute of it, it’s fascinating here!” Max has been working under the supervision of staff in the Structural Biology group to dismantle equipment from one of the obsolete beamlines and build mirror vessels, a detector table and a granite table for the ID30 beamline under construction.

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Apprentices from the UK follow a presentation of the ESRF in the presence of their tutors. Credit: ESRF/C. Argoud.

Josh Searis and David Hunt, both aged 20, have spent their time within the ESRF’s Mechanical Engineering group designing and building bespoke components for specialised use on the beamlines. “Our supervisors took time to explain the principles of the synchrotron and gave us an A-Z on how the beamline works. A lot of the obscurity has been lifted and that’s definitely going to help me once I get back home.” Said David, who is currently in the last year of his 4-year apprenticeship at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

Among the students present for a longer period, Marine Pion is busy drafting the final dissertation that will validate her Master’s degree in Purchasing. Marine started the course in September 2012 on an alternating rhythm of one week of lessons at the Grenoble IDRAC, a sales and procurement management training centre, followed by two weeks applying the theory in the ESRF’s Purchasing Department.

“The ESRF is very different to other companies in that the purchasing activity is more a support service than a central pillar of functioning. Here, very often the material is highly specialised or even custom developed and the scientists and engineers have the technical knowledge of the product. Purchasing takes care of the contractual side and the procurement, sales conditions, conformity, delivery, insurance etc.” says Marine. “This means we work in close collaboration with the users and have to adapt to the different ways of thinking and doing that come with such a diversity of nationalities. It’s extremely rich and my English improved rapidly: I had no choice!”

The general consensus from this younger population is that the ESRF is a unique place to work, full of exciting opportunities and access to equipment straight out of their dreams. Grenoble also offers a lively social agenda, networking possibilities and a fantastic backdrop of outdoor activities and student nightlife.


Students assemble for an after-hours BBQ at the ESRF’s Chalet. Credit: ESRF/M.Scandella

But what about the staff of the ESRF who, year after year, spend time and energy on welcoming and training the next generation? Integrating these young and inexperienced newcomers involves forward planning and commitment from staff. What makes it worth the effort?

For Christophe Penel, Engineer in the Insertion Devices laboratory, helping a trainee is a satisfying if admittedly time-consuming task. It keeps him on his toes in his job and up to date in his field of expertise. “The trainees arrive and question what we do here. Sometimes we’re surprised to realise that we do things a certain way just because we always have done. Their fresh look helps us renew our way of thinking and stay up to date on new technologies and working methods.”

The X-ray Optics Group has a long-standing tradition of welcoming trainees at all levels from high-school to final year of engineering school. For Ray Barrett, group head, the time investment is substantial but worth it for the development activities that tend to get pushed aside during periods of severe demand on time. The students are keen to work on their project in the available placement duration and they can stay concentrated on one project unlike the permanent members of the group. “It’s also great for us to keep in touch with the upcoming young generation who may, in time, replace us!” adds Ray.

Accepting an apprentice also enables the employee to push the frontiers of their own day-to-day activity. To offer the apprentices under his supervision a broader picture of the purpose of their work, Keith Baldock, main technician in the ESRF’s mechanical workshop, arranged for them to leave the workshop and see hands-on how the pieces they had machined would be used by the scientists on the beamline.  In doing so, his own vision and experience was enriched by a different approach, as well as bridging a gap between departments and strengthening internal network links. “We all learned something. I think I can speak for the other tutors as well when I say we’d be happy to fill the same role in future years,” concludes Keith.

The ESRF is set to continue its fertile partnership with upcoming generations. If you are interested in a traineeship at the ESRF, take a look at the opportunities available today online.


Top image: The ESRF: a great place to earn your degree