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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory
From left to right: Oliwia Zawadska, Scott Dell, Abbie Lowe and Tom Sharp

At the Cavendish Laboratory, apprenticeships are not just about learning the ropes; they are about fostering the next generation of brilliant technicians to support and assist physics research while offering them a springboard for a rewarding career.

The Department’s apprenticeship programme is designed to provide a hands-on learning experience, blending theoretical knowledge with practical application. From day one, apprentices are immersed in a lab environment where they work alongside seasoned physicists, researchers, and technicians. This unique opportunity allows them to gain a deeper understanding of their field while contributing to cutting-edge projects.

In this article, we catch up with Oliwia Zawadzka, Abbie Lowe and Tom Sharpe, current and former apprentices at the Department of Physics, and shine a spotlight on their outstanding progress. Their experiences shed light on the transformative impact of their apprenticeships and offer some wise advice for those considering a similar path.


Oliwia’s Journey:

Two years ago, Oliwia Zawadzka embarked on her Level 3 Applied Science apprenticeship at the Cavendish Laboratory, learning the ropes to become a professional lab technician with the Physics of Medicine research groups.

Her thirst for knowledge has not dried over time and her ambitions are growing as opportunities arise. "I’m almost finished but I have been putting a lot of thoughts about my future," Oliwia shares. “My current degree will give me a Laboratory Standard, which will allow me to work as a laboratory technician without supervision, but I would really like to continue studying for further qualifications, probably a level 4 or level 5 applied science qualifications.”

Since we last caught up, she has also received a national award from CSR Scientific Learning for her outstanding performance at Physics at Work, Cavendish’s flagship outreach event. “I am always volunteering to talk about apprenticeships to young people,” she says. “I do it because I am passionate about it and I want them to see how it can be a good way for them to study science, but it’s lovely to be recognised for it too!”


Tom’s reflections

Tom Sharp has long finished his apprenticeship in mechanical engineering but is still reaping the rewards of his hands-on training with the department’s technical services.

The last time we caught up with him was in 2021, and since then Tom has been busy mentoring new Lab Technician apprentices. “I have at least one apprentice with me full time for a 6-month period,” says Tom. “In that time, I teach them a lot of the basic skills that I have picked up over years of experience and get them involved in any projects that I am working on.”

Tom is not one to stay still and thinking about the future, he says: “I am currently looking at a few different courses to help progress my role. I know from experience how establishing strong mentor-mentee relationships is crucial, so I want to educate myself on how to become the best mentor possible for our apprentices. On top of that I am also looking at a line management course to open up more opportunities.”


Abbie’s experience

Abbie Lowe completed her Level 3 Lab Technician apprenticeship and completed a Level 4 diploma at the Cavendish before becoming a permanent member of staff in 2021. She now holds a new position as a Process Scientist.

Reflecting on her time as an apprentice, Abbie says: “My apprenticeship gave me many skills for life. I learned new things every day and did things that I never thought I would be able to do.”

“Having a science apprenticeship has definitely helped my career. It's given me a hands-on experience and it helped me identify that I really do enjoy working in the lab and that was what I wanted to carry on doing.”

Just like her colleagues Oliwia and Tom, her first apprenticeship led to bigger plans: “I am currently doing a L3 Leadership and Management apprenticeship course,” she says.


Words of wisdom

We’ve asked Abbie, Oliwia and Tom to share the one piece of advice they would be telling their younger self before embarking on an apprenticeship. They offer some sage advice that might be useful to anyone contemplating a similar path.

“I would remind myself to enjoy the challenges of stepping out of my comfort zone, and to not worry when making mistakes”, says Tom. “Only by making mistakes you can push the boundaries of your knowledge!”

“I would say to her: make sure you do an apprenticeship in something that really interests you,” notes Abbie.

“I would probably tell my younger self not to stress out,” Oliwia says. “There will always be something you will be good at and that will bring you joy, so hold on and believe in yourself and your abilities.”

As a concluding note, Tom says: “Never forget that nobody expects you to be perfect, so don't get caught up on what other might be (but probably aren't) thinking.”


Is this for you?

Through their dedication, enthusiasm, and commitment to excellence, apprentices like Oliwia, Tom and Abbie exemplify the department's commitment to nurturing future scientific and technical talents. To those considering an apprenticeship in science, the advice is clear: dive in, embrace the challenges, and let your curiosity guide you toward a future filled with endless possibilities!

If you want to learn more about apprenticeships at the Cavendish Laboratory, visit our website.



From left to right: Oliwia Zawadzka, Scott Dell, Abbie Lowe and Tom Sharp