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Guide for new PhD students

This is a guide intended to help new PhD students starting with the Particle Physics research group. It is based on mine & others' experiences joining the group in 2015 so may not be directly applicable and parts of it may be specific to ATLAS.

Please contribute to help keep it up to date.

Things you need to bring with you

The following documents are needed to fully register with the university, CERN & your experiment.

  • Passport
  • Degree certificate to confirm your offer (if this hasn't been done already)
  • National insurance number

Things you don't need:

  • A computer - linux terminals are more than sufficient for working in the office. Some people do use their own computers but you definitely don't need to buy one before arriving.
  • Stationary - this will be provided by the school's stores.

Registering with the university

  • Submit a copy of transcript / results for your offer to become official. This isn't neccessary if you have just completed your undergraduate degree here.
  • You'll then receive your new university logon details by email
  • Login in to my.bham (using your logon details in the form abc123 - note the lower case) & register your details under the my.programme tab
  • You should then be able to collect your university ID card. If possible do this before the start of the undergraduate term time as it gets a lot busier.
  • Your university email address is and can be accessed directly at webmail or through the email link on the top right after logging into my.bham.
  • Note: the PGR email system is not hosted on the same servers as the undergraduate servers so issues may arise if switching over. Contact the IT service desk if neccessary.

Getting stipend pay

  • You should receive an email from Sara Lawrence before arriving at Birmingham. This should include a form for payment details.
  • Return this form and you should get paid your first month stipend in advance, approximately 10 days before your arrival. If you are unsure on some details i.e. funding source, leave them blank and your form should still be processed fine.


  • If you don't already have a supervisor agreed, the first couple of weeks are used to meet everyone on the experiment at Birmingham and find out more about their work
  • Students have a primary and secondary supervisor. Depending on which experiment you work on you may end up working more closely with other members of staff - so your assigned supervisors may not be as big as deal as you think.
  • Once you do have a supervisor, monthly supervision reports are required at the end of each month. They aren't required until November. Forms for the reports are available from and return to canvas. There's also the added delight of '6 monthly progress reports' & 'development needs analysis forms' later on. You'll get emailed about them when the excitement of filling them in comes round.

Office access

  • On your first day with the group Maria Hobbs should help you collect your office keys from stores & provide you with a form for out-of-hours access to the building

Get set up with a local account

  • Speak to Mark Slater to get your Birmingham hep group user ID & set a password
  • This is your log on for local linux terminals
  • Email him with an email address to get email forwarded from this email to another one (I would suggest your CERN email when it gets set up). Alternatively email can be accessed through alpine on the linux machines

PhD lectures from MPAGS

  • The Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School provides post-graduate lectures to PhD students. Some lectures are given in person in Birmingham and streamed to other universities, while other lectures are streamed to Birmingham from other universities,
  • In the 2015-16 academic year, all first year PhD students were expected to pass at least 4 modules worth of assessments for MPAGS courses. The choice of which modules you study & take the assessment for should be in agreement with your supervisor
  • To register an account go to
  • Once you've agreed with your supervisor which modules you will attend register on the course page
  • Check that the modules have been updated from the previous year
  • C++ course is mandatory and does not count towards the quota of 4 modules. If completely new to C++ it may be useful to read through an introduction, there are many resources available online.
  • Apart from the C++ course all modules are taught in the room on the first floor of physics west - either directly (and streamed to other instituations) or streamed from other institutions.
  • Students are expected to prepare the room for streaming lectures, speak to Mark Slater about how to setup the room for MPAGS modules.

Teaching opportunities

  • PhD students are expected to take up teaching responsibilities. Pay is in addition to the stipend and for the 2015-16 academic year was 14.67 per hour. Speak to Gary Tungate or Neil Thomas if you have a preference of a modules. Teaching opportunities include:
    • Demonstration & marking for computing classes (mostly C++ with some python starting in the 2016-17 academic year)
    • Laboratory
    • Maths examples classes
    • Marking for weekly problems
    • Teaching skills classes
  • You should also receive information about a training day in preparation for your teaching. This is not specific to the teaching you do. You should be reimbursed for your time spent on this training day.
  • You will be automatically joined into a pension scheme. You can opt out of the pension scheme if you don't want to make contributions.

Registering with a CERN account

  • The CERN pre-registration tool can be found here and should be filled in with the assitance of / by supervisors. A scanned copy of the home institution declaration form (for all CERN users) should be sent in - keep hold of the original. This is done before visiting CERN and should give you access to your CERN computing account. Maria Hobbs can help with this.
  • CERN Registration in person is done on your first visit. You will need to take the original signed forms to the CERN user's office (building 61) to get your account approved. CERN ID can then be obtained by visiting building 55. (Queuing can take a while here, depending on the time of year. However queuing can be done 'digitally' through an app - details advertised at building 55)
  • CERN email should be available shortly after the pre-registration tool has been completed.
  • Register with your experiment. ATLAS students should follow these instructions
  • GRID certificates: To register and set-up a grid certificate, follow the guide noting that the l ink on step 6 is currently out of date and an alternative link can be used to check certificate set-up.
  • You should register your GRID certificate with your virtual organisation. This is done through the VOMS service?

ATLAS specifics

  • Birmingham ATLAS weekly meetings are on Thursday's 10AM in the second floor West meeting room. The format is usual:
    • PhD student roundtable - giving a short verabl summary of their work this week
    • Activity update from one PhD student each week
    • A report on the ATLAS weekly meeting by a staff member, possibly including details on their work
    • The upcoming & recent agendas are listed here
  • New students need to complete a qualification task before they are listed as an author. This should take at least 50% of your time for the first year of your PhD. The subject of possible qualification tasks is a good topic for discussion when meeting potential supervisors. The work involved can vary significantly from software to hardware, feel free to chat to the older students about their tasks!
  • ATLAS UK conference is every year around early January. For 2017 it is 4th-7th January at the University of Liverpool. Most students will go to this so keep the dates free!
  • When it is one's birthday it is convention that one brings in celebratory cakes, biscuits or goodies to the student office.

Trips away

  • A blank travel form should be sent round to you. You should fill this in and get it signed by your supervisor before each trip out of the country.
  • The university provides free travel insurance for when you are travelling on university business. This is essential can be arranged through the online form.
  • When travelling away you should be covered for your expenses.
    • Keep receipts for everything you want to claim.
    • No alcohol should be claimed.
    • Pink claims forms are above the printers in 332A.
    • If you have a lot of receipts, consider using a spreadsheet to make it easier to total up them all.
    • Return the form & all the receipts to Maria Hobbs.
  • Going to CERN for the first time
    • Before exiting the baggage recalim area of Geneva airport, you should be able to get a free bus & tram ticket to travel from the airport to the CERN site. The Y bus goes directly from the airport stop to CERN.
    • The main CERN site has a hotel - the CERN hostel. Booking is done through the website using your CERN account. It is reasonable easy to both book & cancel in advance. It will fill up during busy times so it is advisable to book a room if in doubt, as long as you cancel it if it isn't needed. Reminder emails are sent out a few days before bookings, so rooms may open up after cancellations after these reminder emails.
    • You'll need to finish your registration & collect your CERN ID (explained above).
    • Make sure you try a kebab.
  • Conferences you'll likely go to in first year
    • IoP Particle Physics conference is just before Easter
      • The day before IoP there is a football tournament. The renowned Bubble chambers tournament was won by the University of Birmingham in 2016. The pressure will be on to defend the title in 2017 and every student will be called upon to do their duty. Email James Broughton for details:
    • RAL summer school - around September
    • Warwick / Flavour week - just before Easter, but after IoP

Other things

  • Indico is CERN's system for scheduling meetings. Get used to using it. It is possible to synchronise a particular group to your google calendar:
    • From a particular meeting, click the up arrow to go to the category / group the meeting belongs to.
    • Click on the "Export to scheduling tool" which is the second of four buttons on the right hand side.
    • Copy the URL displayed.
    • In google calendar, find 'other calendars' on the lefthand side
    • Click on the dropdown arrow to the right of 'other calendars' and choose add by URL
  • Vidyo is CERN's system for holding meetings over the internet.
    • There is an app
    • There is also a desktop download here
  • It is possible to use your own PC.
    • To get ethernet access in West you will need to give Mark Slater your device's MAC address and ask it to be given access.
    • It is possible to use the groups printers while using a wired ethernet connection. Details of how to set this up are in the computing part of this twiki
    • Your grid certificate will need to installed on your browser. Copy it across as neccessary.
    • SSH from home / elsewhere: you can run terminal sessions through SSH. The exact process you follow depends on the operating system.
      • You must have a grid certificate set up
      • You must carry out the SSL check from with-in a browser (with the grid certificate set up).
      • Launch the SSH session with a terminal or putty.
      • More details are here
      • If you are using a mac & an SSH terminal to access files, consider using kinit to save typing your password repeatedly & FUSE for OSX to be able to mount the external file system as a local one.

  • Seminars & coffee. First year PhD students are expected to take the tea, coffee & biscuits across for the groups' seminars on Wednesdays. They can be picked up from Maria's office on the second floor, roughly 15 minutes before the start of the weekly seminar. Ian Kenyon who organises the seminars will speak to you about this. Attendance at these seminars is compulsary if you are able to go.

Long term attachments

As part of an STFC funded PhD working on an LHC experiment you are likely get the opportunity to go to CERN on a 'long term attachment.' This is usually 1 year long but can last up to 2 years. You will get the chance to train as a shifter for your experiment & play a crucial role in the day to day running of the detector. There is also the option of the annual ski trip organised for students on LTA.

Students on LTA are entitled to:

  • Additional funds to cover the extra costs of living near CERN (approximately 400 per month)
  • Accommodation near to CERN with maintenance bills included (internet needs to be paid for and then claimed back)
  • A removals company to transport belongings when moving out / back to Birmingham
  • The usual expenses for conferences / meetings
  • Some great cycling in the Jura mountains & the Alps

  • Sound tempting? You don't need to do anything for now! The CERN UK liaison office sends out details around May time for how to apply for LTA.

Key contacts

  • Head of research group - Paul Newman
  • Group secretary - Maria Hobbs
  • Schools PGR administrator - Sara Lawrence
  • Computing wizard / guru - Mark Slater

Contact details are available on 'Who we are' page

-- JamesKendrick? - 28 June 2016

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