A shot of the swansea beach. Looking out into the horizon as the sun is starting to set

So before I turn you all away with the talk of physics, if you're a student and are stuck in a rut maybe give this post a read to find out other ways to make what you are learning fun; because we all know exams drain the life out of is.

Anyway, from the 8th to the 12th of July I travelled across the country to Swansea in South Wales for what we all called CAPS19. Extended CAPS19 is the Conference for Astronomy and Physics Studnet, for the year 2019. Before I even get on to what we did at the conference I'd thought I mention how much of a push outside my comfort zone this was. I find human interacting can at times be draining and some times outright terrifying. But having just finished my second year of university and spending the last few months planning my placement year I know that no-one else but me was going to shove my butt out the door and into the big wide world. So back at the beginning of June, my university brought this conference to our attention, well at least to those of us who checked StudyNet. And unlike other times when things, like going to Cern or going to the pub, came up, I didn't really hesitate and was reaching more to the side of "I would really like to go". Of course, when the time came to buy my ticket I ended up hesitating over that final conformation button, but I bought it and that's the biggest step for me. So come the 8th of July, with a ticket bought in advance for the 3-hour train ride from home to Swansea, I was bricking it. To the point, I could barely eat breakfast or lunch that Monday. But alas I'm not one to back down from a challenge. Plus my mother wasn't going to let me not go.
In the end, it kind of became a stepping stone into my solo travel adventures and on my way to going to South Korea next year.

Anyway, after a long journey and a grumpy bus driver, I made it to Swansea university. Thay night the planned activity was pizza and a pub quiz. And let's just say a tired, stressed and hungry Sophie is not the person you want to be meeting for the first time. But still, I made small talk and ate very little pizza because anxiety was making me feel sick. Monday was definitely not the greatest day. But the rest of the week was pretty fab. For the next three days, CAP19 consisted of research talks, industry talks, student talks, workshops and a lot of asking people if they meant my university or my home town when they asked where I was from. I'm new to this I had no idea what they meant.

The research talks covered topics from quantum computers to exo-planets. Pretty much as many areas of physics you can fit into three days, and physics isn't the smallest of subjects niche wise. Though not all of them were my forte, I was kind of not here for any more quantum after studying and struggling with it during my second year of university, it did re-light the spark that had been fizzling out after exams and sitting around for nearly two months at home with nothing to do. I was also able to find a bunch of ideas of what to do after my Mphys degree rather than just go onto a PhD. And you know what it's actually pretty fun to listen to others rave about physics just as much as you love it and learn about other areas rather than just Astro that isn't in a classroom environment; because let's be real when you have to learn for exam a good portion of it is just memorisation rather than actually 'learning' it, but that's a whole other blog post for another day.

As for the industry talks, they were less of an interest to me, but that is because I know the companies that came in are not ones I want to work for since I've encountered them at career/STEM fairs in the past. But nonetheless, for those of you who haven't had their eyes opened to other options rather than always being in academia which isn't for everyone, you might find a company that you like the sound of and network.

Network. That's a word I feel like I did a lot of. Most of the time as a student you are either locked inside your own head or only socialising with those within your university course, which for me is no more than 50 ish people. So at CAPS, I was able to find more people that I could network with. Which who knows might come in handy in the future.

But also you can make such good friends at these things that you might have not met otherwise. There was one girl who I bonded pretty well with, and she reads my blog now since I mentioned it to her so HI!, and it might not have been completely over physics that we bonded but more of a BTS thing, so typically Sophie, but now we are still talking and I actually love it. I've been very good at hiding myself and not going out socialising over the years but I'm coming to a realising that I do actually love to socialise and once I get over that awkward first few conversations I can talk my head off to anyone as long as we're somewhere on a similar wavelength. It might have been BTS this time, okay it's been lots of times, which let me able to become quick friends with someone, but thanks to the conference we came to meet so that should give it some merits.

The workshops were on the Wednesday of the week in the morning and we were able to choose two options out of the four they offered us to go too. I only went to one since the others were stuff I had done in the grad skills module in second year, but nonetheless, it was an eye-opener. I actually went to the science writing/communicator one. If any of you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed the few tweets where I've mentioned a keen passion to try and merge my love for blogging and love for physics together, and I guess science writing could be one of those. Though I have to admit I was very anxious for this workshop since the whole time at CAPS I felt somewhat lost since well I guess it's a bit, a huge bit, of imposter syndrome, so the actual workshop didn't go great for me, but I did learn of the process of writing for physics magazines which might be something to start off with and see if science writing is something for me. Anyway compared to the talks we were able to 'get our hands dirty' rather than just sit there and listen for 30 mins to an hour. Definitely insightful.

The student talks didn't come till Thursday and honestly, they were pretty much like the research talks just given by the student. It was really interesting seeing what people who are only maybe a couple years older than myself have been doing, and what I could be doing if I fancied going into research. It was also fun supported the friends you had just made during the few days before.

With that, the only other thing that was left before we all went home on Friday was the Gala dinner on Thursday evening. I'm not going to post any photos from then on here since I didn't really take any since I was I guess living in the moment, but there are a few on the Institute of Physics (IOP) facebook page if you want to take a nosy. But anyway we all dressed up fancy, which is a wide range of fancy when you come to physicists, and ate a three-course meal while just spending time with those people that we had spent the last three/four days with.

It was a great end, to a stressful but fun week.

And Friday it was home time!

I'm actually so glad I put myself out there, out of my comfort zone, out of the safe bubble that I had created for myself over the years. Hopefully, I'll be able to go back in two years time, since next year I might still be in South Korea, and hopefully be able to see some of the same people and meet some completely new ones as well.

So that was my CAPS19 experience!

I hope this post might be of help to someone in the future who is looking for an insight to the conferences since when I looked there was nothing, and I hope they go and have a great time.

And if you're reading this and hoping to go to a CAPS event and want to know more about something that I haven't covered in this post, you can pop me either an email or a dm on twitter and I will be sure to give you all the answers to the questions you have as best as I can.

Have any of you been to conferences or similar sort of things? I know most of those of you who read my posts are not physicists but how do you try to network within your given area? Do you do anything to light the spark after exams have tried to snuff it out?

- Sophie

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