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From opera singing to black holes
“When most children are young they sit at the dinner table and colour in a piece of paper - I used to ask my mum to write down sums I could answer – that’s just what I enjoyed.”
Jessica May Hislop, 25, who is graduating with a first-class degree in Physics with Astrophysics from the University of Sussex, had a love of maths and the sciences from a very early age.
“Maths just speaks to me and I’d always been very drawn to space,” says Jessie, who is taking up a PhD place at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching, Germany, later this summer, studying simulations of galaxy formation.
But her career path could have been very different. “I started studying opera in at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow but I realised after three months that it just didn’t suit me,” she says.
“I was sitting in my room, watching loads of documentaries about space because I was trying to keep my brain active. I even started revising my GCSE maths for something to do. I realised that I really missed academia.”
Jessie decided to leave music college to start a foundation year in the Physics Department at the University of Sussex, after which she progressed to studying for an MPhys in Physics with Astrophysics.
Jessie says: “I hadn’t done Physics or Maths to A-level so I wondered whether a foundation year might be the best thing for me. When I looked at the league tables, I realised how good Sussex was so I put in my application and came to an open day. I met some lovely people and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the campus was. I knew then I’d made the right decision.”
Jessie credits the Department for giving her such brilliant opportunities during her time at University – which includes working on the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, a £7 billion telescope which will be launched into space in 2021 to uncover the history of the Universe.
Jessie says: “Everyone in the Department helps each other and pulls each other up, with the older years so willing to help younger years. The academics are brilliant. They have such great contacts in the sector! From this, I’ve been able to travel to Germany and Switzerland during my studies on paid research placements.”
Her four years of hard work recently paid off when she was awarded a first class hons degree and an award for her outstanding final project working on gravitational waves. Jessie is now looking forward to studying for her PhD in Germany and credits Sussex as the place where she has found longlasting friendship.
She adds: “I’ve made such lovely friends here - about 10 of us who started the foundation year have been together for five years and will graduate together – they will be friends for life!”