Julia Higgins: working at Grenoble

Julia Higgins recalls the enjoyments of working at the Grenoble nuclear research facility and her decision to leave.

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There must – and I really can’t remember exactly how it worked, we must have had some team way of deciding who was going to do what when. And there was a scheduling process, which experiment would come after which experiment. But to all intents and purposes, we were free people. We were not pushed - you know, we weren’t told to do this and do that. We were expected to have our own experimental programme. We were expected to write papers and we were expected to interact with the outside people, and that’s what we did. It was good fun. Well, first of all I was doing science, and it was new. You know, everything we did was new. It was on new instruments. You can ask me what I liked least in a minute, but … [Laughs] I really enjoyed the international contact on the whole. I mean, it was great working with not just people from Britain but other Germans or French, or we worked with Japanese. We worked with Americans. You were looking at their scientific problems as well as ones that you’d thought of yourself. Equally, on the experiments that were my own, you had access to the best machines in the world. I mean, who wouldn’t like that? On the other hand, ask me if at three in the morning, when the instrument wasn’t working properly and I wanted to go to sleep, I was entirely happy to be clambering up and down a small angle scattering machine and I will say, 'no', that was hard [laughs].

Were there any other bits you didn’t like about it?

Well, the whole IT part was very frustrating because if the computer went off – I mean, I’m not a computer expert. I do remember once, one of the many times the computer running the thing had gone off, or the local electronics had, and somebody said to me, ‘Look, one of the best tricks with this is to switch the whole lot off and on again.’ And I’ve used that many times subsequently. It’s not a bad way of getting something to work that isn’t working. But overall it was – it was a good time. The only thing is, I didn’t want to – I could quite see that I didn’t want to do this permanently. It was something I enjoyed while I was there. And the reason – the main reason was I didn’t want to be a technique person, I wanted to be a problem person. So I mean, I could see that really you had to be based in a university if what you were doing was running your own research programme. It was very bitty, what I could do under my own auspices there.

  • Interviewee Julia Higgins
  • Duration 00:02:18
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 10/18/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/55

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