By Leonid Nichman

08 February 2021 - 10:00

Leonid Nichman is on a mission to protect the natural world. Originally from Israel, he came to the UK to complete a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences at The University of Manchester, with a Marie Curie fellowship. This was the beginning of his important career and he now works at the National Research Council Canada in the pioneering Flight Research Laboratory (FRL), where he helps to discover new and sustainable ways of living, in order to make our lives safer and to tackle climate change. As a Research Officer, he leads and supports work onboard the Convair-580 aircraft - adapted into a flying laboratory so that scientists can study how aviation affects, and is affected by, natural environments. The team find ways of making flying safer (such as how to prevent ice from forming on an aircraft’s wings) and how to reduce the aviation industry’s impact on climate change. Another key part of his work is using the FRL’s fleet of aircrafts to study environmental phenomena, such as anthropogenic (human caused) pollution and forest fires, in order to find new ways of protecting the natural world.

In this blog, he explains why the UK is the best possible choice for scientists like him, and how his degree helped him to break into an extremely competitive field.

A world leader in scientific research

The UK is a huge name in the field of scientific research, and by being there you have access to so many cutting-edge technologies, new ideas and new ways of thinking. 

To be in this kind of environment has definitely helped me in my career. The UK was always a country where I wanted to study. UK degrees are highly respected in my profession, and The University of Manchester is globally recognised as a centre of learning.

Also, being able to study and work in English has been extremely useful. I really improved my English by being in the UK, and that has opened up many new opportunities for me.

A unique academic experience

For me, one of the best things about studying science in the UK is how multi-disciplinary your education is. You get the chance to interact and learn from many different areas, and to personally meet world-leading experts and Nobel laureates from many different fields. That isn’t possible in a lot of other places, where you can be given a very narrow field of study.

Also, the fact that UK education is based on ‘critical thinking’ principles is extremely important in a career like mine. Being able to question information, and to have your work reviewed and criticised by others, is fundamental to high quality science and research. The UK gives you great experience of this, and helps you to build impressive critical thinking skills.

A chance to broaden your horizons

Without a doubt, studying at Manchester has improved my career prospects. As part of my degree, I published papers and reports under my own name. This has proved to be extremely important as being a published academic gives you a real advantage in any scientific career.

I was also encouraged to take part in lots of extra-curricular activities, and to put myself forward for national science competitions in the UK. It was through winning these competitions that I got to interact with companies like GlaxoSmithKline, meeting CEOs and other key players in the scientific community. That always helps when you’re looking for a new career!

And I made some great friends through these competitions, who were from the UK but also international students in Manchester. These friends are now in great careers themselves, which means I now have strong connections in organisations such as the Met Office in the UK, CERN in Switzerland and NASA in the US.

A warm welcome

As someone who grew up in the Middle East, I didn’t expect the UK to feel so much like home. But I felt really welcome in Manchester. People were friendly and helpful, and there were lots of fun things to do. I’d go to pubs and restaurants and concerts with friends, and I got to explore the rest of the country with trips away to Wales and other places. I had a great time.

The best possible start

I work in a field that’s very difficult to break into. It’s a very technical area, and you’re up against some tough competition. A UK education gave me the edge I needed to succeed.

It also gave me the confidence I needed. Because I met so many inspiring people and made so many great contacts. It made me think ‘I can do this’.

Choosing Manchester for my PhD was definitely the best decision.