Conversations with… Dr Simon Vaughan

Dr Simon Vaughan is an Associate Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, as well as being one of the two Academic Directors of the School, written by Emily Baldwin.

This new segment ‘Conversations with…’ asks a number of staff questions about themselves and their work. This first article is provided by Dr Simon Vaughan, Associate Professor and one of the two Academic Directors of the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Can you briefly describe your role within the School of Physics and Astronomy?

Along with many other Physics staff I deliver lectures, workshops, write and mark exams, set projects etc. Officially, the Academic Director role requires me (along with my colleague and co-director Dr Merv Roy) “to oversee the maintenance, development and continuous enhancement of the quality of taught programmes”.

What made you want to start on this career path?

My career since PhD is: postdoc, postdoc, temporary lecturer, lecturer, associate professor. While a lecturer I began working on student recruitment and admissions to Physics, took over as Senior Admissions Tutor in 2014 and then took up the Academic Director role in 2016 after Prof Graham Wynn stood down to take on the Curriculum Transformation and then Education Excellence projects. I felt I could positively contribute to the operations and success of the school by doing this. Hopefully, I’ve managed to do that.

If you could give your former self one piece of advice, what would it be?
In professional life: if you want to improve, find yourself a mentor who really knows what they’re doing. What is sometimes not clear, especially to junior staff, is that being senior and being an expert are not the same; learn from those who are experts regardless of position.

What is your favourite thing to do outside of work?

Work is often really busy, so I like simple and quiet things outside of work. Usual stuff: playing with my children, walks (not too energetic!), movies, reading, good food and drink and company.

Do you have any pet colleagues or interesting hobbies/collections?

I have two cats – one likes to chew cables and this is proving to be quite challenging when I’m working from home with laptop and headset cables around all day long!

What is your proudest achievement (not necessarily work related)?

Inside work there’s no single big event but will mention a couple:

  • As a researcher, I sometimes saw something unexpected and exciting in my data, but nearly always it would go away after more careful analysis (That’s why we do careful analysis – so we don’t fool ourselves.) I remember well the discovery with XMM-Newton of the first dust echo around a gamma-ray burst, circa 2005. I was a postdoc working on the data in Leicester and was one of the first humans to ever see such an image in real data. (The careful analysis confirmed it was real.)
  • The other is getting undergraduate students to graduation on the degree programme that Merv and I redesigned for Curriculum Transformation. The first cohort of students to go through the redesigned degree started in 2016 and graduated in 2019 and 2020. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have a big ceremony for the 2020 MPhys class.

If you had to describe yourself in one word what word would you choose?

Right now: Stretched!

This is the first article in our ‘Conversations with…’ articles, a segment we have begun to help highlight different members of staff and get to know them. If you have any feedback, or have a member of staff that you would like to highlight please email

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