Bodil Holst (1993)
Professor of Physics, University of Bergen
“The world needs many different types of people with many different types of skills”
How do you look back on your time at Trinity Hall?
As very happy and very rewarding. I learnt a lot in many different ways and gained friends for life. It was the fulfillment of a dream. I particularly enjoyed the interdisciplinarity of college life. The fact that you could meet and have discussions with people interested in so many different things. I still sometimes miss being able to go for dinner in Hall and learn about topics I never knew existed. I also feel very grateful when I look back. Originally I came to Trinity Hall with a one year scholarship from Denmark. At the end of the year I was awarded an EPSRC grant from the Cavendish Laboratory to carry on with a PhD but this did not cover maintenance. Through the Graduate Tutor at the time, Dr Padfield, it was arranged that Trinity Hall stepped in and awarded me an additional maintenance grant.
Why did you choose to study physics?
I wanted to understand how the world functions. I still do.
How did your time at Trinity Hall impact on your career?
Having a degree from Cambridge is an asset in its own right wherever you go, there is no denying that. More concretely; I got a first author publication in Nature during my PhD and this was extremely important and helped me get two prestigious postdoctoral scholarships. I am still doing research related to my PhD topic.
Do you have any advice for other women looking to work in your field?
The advice I would give to anybody man or woman: study physics if you like physics and do not worry about living up to any expectations. Physics is often ‘tainted’ in people’s conception by the ‘Einstein myth’ – the lonely genius, but you do not need to be Einstein to make a contribution to physics (and even Einstein was much more down to earth and much less lonely in his work than he is often presented). The world needs many different types of people with many different types of skills. In particular the modern world is in desperate need of people who can work interdisciplinary and communicate across traditional topic boundaries.
Who are your female role models?
My grandmother Gudrun Brun. She was a children’s psychiatrist and the first female chief physician in Copenhagen.
What is your greatest career or academic achievement to date?
A few years back, together with my group and colleagues from MIT we were the first to demonstrate the classical Poissons Spot experiment in optics with de Broglie matter waves. I actually got the idea for this experiment when I was supervising the 1.B optics course but I had to wait several years before I could do it. On a different level I am also very proud of a book I recently published: Scientific Paper Writing – A Survival Guide. It is ilustrated by Jorge Cham from PhD comics and the aim of the book is to make it easier for PhD students and others to write and publish good papers.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Relax, everything will be fine.