From physics PhD to quiz master

3 August 2017

Dr Caitlin Fisher completed a PhD in optical physics and now finds herself masterminding the University’s flagship National Science Week event, (Science + Quiz) = Comedy.

Dr Caitlin Fisher

Dr Caitlin Fisher is drawing on her science knowledge and skills for an unconventional project. Photo by Jayne Ion. 

Dr Caitlin Fisher is honing her science knowledge, tapping into her funny bone and building her event management mojo working behind-the-scenes in the production of the sold-out opening event for National Science Week.

Fresh from a PhD, Dr Fisher has taken a somewhat unconventional turn for a physicist. She is currently masterminding the creative elements of (Science + Quiz) = Comedy, drawing on her knowledge, skills and interests.   

Caitlin’s doctoral research was in optical physics, studying light and its behaviour.

“I looked into how efficiently we could create a strange light-electron hybrid, called a surface plasmon polariton, using different lasers and different material surfaces. I did all my work through computer simulations and calculations.

“The aim was to make these phenomena very efficiently so they could be used to replace electrons in some computer circuits as the signal carrier, resulting in more information carried more quickly and with less power.”

So how does a PhD student go from computer simulator to event coordinator?

I didn’t just restrict myself to my studies. I did a little bit of everything to broaden my scope and skills.
Dr Caitlin Fisher
Dr Caitlin Fisher standing in front of cartoon science images and a Science + Quiz = Comedy sign

Caitlin in the sparkling limelight of (Science + Quiz) = Comedy before returning to her hard work behind the scenes. Photo by Jayne Ion.

“I didn’t just restrict myself to my studies. I did a little bit of everything to broaden my scope and skills. I’ve worked as a physics tutor, Kickstart Physics demonstrator, first year officer for the Science Society, SLAM mentor, ran school visits for the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems as part of the University of Sydney Optics Chapter, and performed in the Science Revue.

“While I was doing my PhD, the most common question I was asked was “what are you going to do when you’ve finished?” My response was always the same – “stop asking!”

“But when I submitted my thesis, I really didn't know what I wanted to do next. I knew it wasn't going to be more research, but I knew it could be data analysis or education as I've always loved explaining things.”

Through connections, questions and recommendations, Caitlin started working in the Partner Engagement and Outreach team in the Faculty of Science.

“My science background has provided me with the skills to perform data analysis for reports, offer support to academics to prepare public talks on their work, and deliver genuine insights about scientific research to university and high school students at our outreach events.

“My singing and performing experience from amateur musical productions, along with my science knowledge has prepared me for my biggest project at work yet – producing this National Science Week event.

(Science + Quiz) = Comedy kicks off the Sydney Science Festival, bringing together two teams of the University of Sydney’s brightest science brains to battle it out with their quirkiest facts, most absurd analogies and funniest antics for a spectacular science quiz show.   

“Real-life researchers, academics and communicators from the disciplines of psychology to veterinary science, from mathematics to chemistry, from robotics to reptiles will make up our panel for the quiz,” said Caitlin.

“Think pub trivia with less pub, more science. Lots of science. More science than base pairs in a strand of DNA. More science than carbon atoms in a mole of buckyballs.”

This sold-out event will be hosted by ever-witty Adam Spencer, with teams receiving exceptional scientific support from energetic brains trust, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.  

Caitlin has dug deep into her life’s collection of scientific learnings, knowledge of new discoveries of our time and dinner party-worthy fun facts to come up with some killer questions to make, or break, our brainy guests. And there are bound to be some physics questions to draw from Caitlin’s area of expertise.

“I feel really lucky that my work, particularly my work on this project, combines my interests, knowledge and skills.

“My advice for students approaching job seeking is to look at your skills, not just your knowledge, and see how they can apply to completely different jobs that you might like to try. And ask everyone you know for job connections and hints - connections are very important!”

Teaser questions

To connect those who have missed out on securing a highly sought-after quiz ticket, Caitlin has provided some brain-breaking questions for home trivia:

  • What do bananas and Star Wars episode II have in common?
  • Why would you want to splice salmon DNA with a strawberry?
  • What does vegemite, Korsakoff’s syndrome and homemade glow-in-the-dark drinking water have in common?
  • How many tennis balls could you fit in the sun?
  • Name 100 things you shouldn’t put in a microwave.

Researchers from the University of Sydney are involved in a range of public events for this year’s Sydney Science Festival running from 8 to 20 August. See the full list of Sydney Science Festival events the University is involved with and join us for a public talk or a workshop to get a taste of the latest and greatest science.

Related articles