CERN reflects on Professor Tara Shears’ year

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Department of Physics Professor Tara Shears took a year long sabbatical at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider

If you get the chance to take a sabbatical, go for it!  That is the clear message from University of Liverpool’s Professor Tara Shears who is coming to the end of a 12-month sabbatical at CERN.

It is hard to imagine that Tara, always a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for LHCb, the LHC and physics in general, could be even more animated about her work, but she is.

Beyond the Standard Model

Tara is one of the convenors for LHCb’s QCD, Electroweak and Exotica physics working group.  The collaboration is best known as an antimatter experiment but Tara is quick to emphasise that this is just one aspect of its research programme.  LHCb’s ability to look beyond the Standard Model, coupled with advances in data analysis, mean that the experiment is well placed to test theories that the other LHC experiments can’t.

“If you’re passionately interested in your research, some part of your day is always ‘at CERN’, even if you’re in the UK”, explains Tara. “But it is very special to be here in person – there is nothing like the magic of being in the middle of everything.”

Tara’s year at CERN began with the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson which she describes as “the most momentous day in my entire career.” 

”The University is really involved and being here means that we can take leading roles in the ATLAS and LHCb experiments”
Like many members of CERN collaborations not directly involved in the search for the Higgs or other scientific breakthroughs, she takes pride in the experimental achievements of her colleagues, “we all understand the challenges and the setbacks, but also admire their ingenuity.  The effort required to find the Higgs boson was breath-taking – I’m proud to work with these people.”

One of the major features of CERN’s experimental collaborations is that whatever stage you are at in your career, you can make a contribution.  “There is a great combination of young, enthusiastic people with good ideas, experienced researchers to guide them, and theorists to give us interesting things to look for”, says Tara.  “The collective drive and enthusiasm make me even more determined to get more physics results out of our data.”

After a year away from Liverpool and from her teaching role, Tara admits to having some mixed feelings about returning.  “For my research life, I would love to stay here – it’s like being a post doc again, but with more knowledge and experience, and more chance of making things happen.  But I also like working with students – they’re so engaged and interested in the latest news.  I’m looking forward to teaching a new course and I will no doubt increase my own knowledge along the way.”

Summer placements

For the University of Liverpool, having a permanent presence at CERN is very important.  “It’s more than keeping in touch,” explains Tara.  “We are really involved and being here means that we can take leading roles in the ATLAS and LHCb experiments.”  There are also benefits closer to home; having an established group supports visiting PhD students, and also allows the team to offer a limited number of summer placements for Liverpool undergraduates.

Tara’s sabbatical was supported by a CERN Scientific Associateship and she strongly encourages other academics who are considering a period of research leave to apply, “There are no drawbacks to taking a sabbatical, and the Associateship makes it possible.”

This article was written by CERN’s Stephanie Hills

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