Tag Archives: Geneva

Tomorrow I’m going to get up and change the world…

One of the most exciting things about living in Geneva are the people. Some of them are filthy rich, with awful taste. But others are mostly young, idealistic and smart. It’s the second group that are interesting, because they have come here to change the world.

When I was in Dubai for a week back in 2004 I spent some time in an office. The manager would take me aside for a chat about 4-5 times a day, for the benefit of my ‘education’. His main theme was that everyone in Dubai had come to better themselves. He wanted a nice car and a swimming pool and had come to Dubai for no other reason than. I hated Dubai, which I found to be full of selfish expats and poor immigrants working in conditions that basically constitute bonded labour. I hated it for this, and the fact that nobody seemed to have any power to improve things. Or even to care.

Here in Geneva, things are different. Not everybody is here for the exclusive betterment of their bank balance. All of the UN interns are unpaid (I think?) – certainly in their ranks they have members of the trust fund brigade, for whom it forms a convenient stop on their european tour. There are doubtless well connected (yet entirely vacuous) individuals who have presumably arrived here through mis-placed patronage or nepotism, which I guess you would call ‘society’ in the now slightly antique usage of the word. I’m sure some of them are flotsam that just wash up on the lakeshore and get stuck.

I’m not interested in any of those people. What interests me are the ones who want to change the world for the better. Maybe they’ve come all the way here to find only a stack of documents to file and photocopy at some UN agency that does excellent work in far away places. Perhaps they will actually get a taste of doing something ‘useful’ for wider humanity. Best of all, inside every one of them is a dream! It’s like the dream of our now dead heros, of Kennedy, of Martin Luther King, perhaps today the dream is most eloquently expressed by Aaron Sorkin.

This dream isn’t necessarily a daily reality. For some it will never come true, filing and photocopying will get in the way forever – but that isn’t the important thing. Probably only a few will have the good fortune to fully realise their aspirations, sadly not everyone is able to live their dreams. The important thing is that these dream are the embodiment of a code of values, an aspirational vision for all. To me this dream it is the antidote to all that is wrong with our current society. It is the single most important thing in the world, because it is our blueprint for a better future for everyone.

Generally, to succeed in life, you must have not only a dream, but also drive, dedication and above all patience to follow it through. This isn’t the kind of dream that will or can ever be fully realised or completed. This dream is the promise of a generation. A promise to ourselves, and to future generations. For me it is a fire that burns, inside me and like a thousand tiny candles in the hearts of each of these young idealists.

The best way that I have yet found to sum up my dream is that future generations should have all the opportunities that we enjoyed and more. We are here to expand the shared horizons of humanity, one day and one person at a time. Here I’ve found people who share this view, and that’s just one of the many reasons why I like Geneva a lot.

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My Day Job – from Anticipations Magazine

A while ago (Nov 2010) I wrote a short article about my new job at CERN for Anticipations, the magazine of the Young Fabians. Mostly it’s full of left/centre left politics/social issues related articles, but they also have a ‘My Day Job’ column for people to write in with ‘genuinely’ interesting jobs. Hopefully mine fits the bill!

Last month I started a new job. By almost all measures, it’s rather unusual – It involves a massive high voltage electrical network, but this isn’t the National Grid, over 27km of underground tunnel system, but it’s not the London Underground, international co-operation on a huge scale, though this isn’t (quite!) the United Nations. I’m lucky enough to work on a small part of what is arguably the most complicated and technically advanced machine ever created by the human race, so far… I work at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider.

 CERN is an international collaboration in the field of particle physics which was founded by a number of European nations in 1954. The UK was one of the twelve founder members and continues to benefit from access to the unique research facilities which CERN offers. On a typical day here there may be up to ten thousand people on site (which spans the French-Swiss border near Geneva), the majority of whom are research physicists. They are the ‘users’ of the huge underground machines. The remainder of those on site are permanent staff responsible for running CERN (everything from catering contracts to particle accelerator design and engineering) number only about two thousand, which makes for a demanding working environment. The collaboration exists to provide facilities which are far beyond the scale and scope of what individual member could achieve on their own. At CERN active research takes place in fundamental physics across the board, rather than the specific quest for the next ‘new’ particle such as the Higgs Boson. Although of course everyone here is hoping that the discovery of the Higgs will be made possible by the LHC.

  As an electrical engineer, my particular work involves the provision of power supplies for the particle accelerators and physics experiments. At the moment I’m working on some new supplies for the safety system which protects the particle beams circulating within the LHC and the new experimental ground control room for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which is scheduled to be attached to the International Space Station next year and will be searching for dark matter and anti-matter in space.

 The languages that I’ve heard spoken so far since my arrival include English, French, German, Portuguese and Japanese as well as many others that I can’t yet recognise! The electrical team I work in is predominantly French speaking, although as part of the procurement procedure all major items of work must be tendered in a process, open exclusively to companies from member states (which now include 20 European nations) with all documentation provided in English. Most of my colleagues have a good degree of fluency in two languages, with a few being fully tri- or even quad-lingual! The majority of my meetings take place in French and when projects come to the implementation stage most of the workers actually doing the construction and installation work are also French speakers. I studied French at A-level and throughout university, though at the moment working in a foreign language every day is proving to be a real (and enjoyable) challenge!

 Of course, it isn’t just about the job. I’ve had to move countries to come here, which like all major changes in life brings both advantages and inconveniences. The best thing about being here so far is definitely the food. The range of wines and cheeses available in local shops is superb, with competitive prices. The countryside here is breath-taking, I can see snow covered mountains from my office window, and on clear day even Mt Blanc! The biggest downside is that I’ve left my friends and family behind in the UK. Fortunately flights from Geneva to London are frequent and not too expensive, so I can at least visit regularly. The ski season is also rapidly approaching so I’m expecting an influx of welcome visitors to take advantage of cheap (free!) accommodation on the floor of my flat and the proximity of many nearby ski slopes.

 It’s probably a fair question to ask how I ended up in my current position, so here’s a little explanation: I first visited CERN back in 1999, as part of an international school trip I persuaded my parents to send me on (thanks Mum & Dad!). During that first visit I was inspired by the possibilities of the groundbreaking physics research and the incredible machines being constructed here. After graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering, I was able to obtain a CERN ‘Summer Student’ internship in 2005. During my internship I worked directly on a tiny (just 10 square centimetres across) part of the particle detection system for one of the gigantic physics experiment called LHCb, which is part of the LHC complex. I highly recommend applying for the CERN programme to anyone currently studying a Physics, Engineering or Computing related course at the moment!

 After finishing my internship, I spent 5 years working in the UK construction sector, designing buildings. At the same time I was making progress towards obtaining my registration as a Chartered Engineer, which can only be gained through a period of working as an engineer. Demonstrating good progress towards registration was an integral part of the application for my current position at CERN. I was able to achieve Chartered Engineer status just before taking up my new role here.

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