Sounds of Science: Meet Caitlin Fisher

As the HSC comes to a close and young students anxiously wait for their results to take on a new challenge, SO has the pleasure of introducing you to Caitlin Fisher – a USYD Science (Honours) graduate who has recently completed her PhD in optical physics. Caitlin not only shares a love for science, maths and programming, but we discovered her passion for singing a cappella four years ago during a stellar performance with the talented Sydney-based ensemble of vocalists, The Acappelicans.

People are often categorised as being either more science or more arts, but who says you can’t actually be both?

SO… whether you have a passion for physics, have always loved maths at school or perhaps absolutely adore singing, read on to see how Caitlin incorporates both the worlds of science and the arts into her ordinary everyday life.

Bev: SO… Tell us a little bit about yourself. Why did you choose to study science at university? What were your interests growing up in school?

Caitlin: I grew up in a pretty nerdy environment. Both of my parents work in the IT industry and encouraged my sister and I to be logical, mathematical thinkers from an early age. They exposed us to all of the best sci-fi classics: Star Trek/Wars/Gate, Dr Who, X-Men etc. It is probably no wonder that I loved maths and science during high school. With the added bonus of having a super cool, or “phun!”, physics teacher in Years 11 and 12, I was absolutely set on jumping into science at university. I ended up completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in both Physics and Mathematics, and doing an Honours year in Physics at CSIRO. Then, I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s see how a PhD goes…’

BB: You’ve recently completed your PhD, tell us a little bit about your thesis and what was the inspiration behind pursuing this?

CF: My PhD is in optical physics – the study of light and playing with lasers. Light is a very useful phenomenon, particularly when it comes to sending huge amounts of data. Every day, hilarious cat videos are converted into complicated light pulses and sent all over the world in an instant. However, on smaller scales, such as within your computer, all data is carried by electronic signals. Electrons carry less information than light, and also experience high power losses. The aim of my research is to look into how light replaces some of these electronic signals. One challenge is to focus the wide light pulses down to the nanoscale sizes of computer circuitry. My research looks into converting light into a hybrid electron-light pulse, called a “surface plasmon polariton” and using these plasmons to carry the data instead!

BB: Tell us a little bit about your love for singing with the Acappelicans. How did you get involved with the group? 

CF: I’ve always loved singing in the shower. One of the first things I did when I got to university was to join a bunch of musical clubs, including the Jazz Society, the Science Revue and MUSE (the musical theatre society). Along the way, I met lots of creative, talented and ambitious people. One of these people, Chris Dendle, decided to start his own a capella group with his own arrangements and he invited a few of us to join. Now four years on, it is still going strong!

BB: What pearls of wisdom would you share with young females to foster their love of singing or performance?

CF: My big piece of advice is no matter what it is that you enjoy doing, do as much of that as you can. And if there is something that you’d like to do that doesn’t exist, make it yourself! As for singing, anyone with a good ear can start out by performing at pubs, their friends’ parties, weddings and work functions. It is surprising how little publicity you need to get invited to more gigs through word of mouth, and before you know it, you’ve got a bit of fame and a lot of practice for bigger and better concerts.

BB: Are there any particular singers or performers that you really admire?

CF: Well, if you are an a capella fan, I highly encourage you to get hold of some tickets for the incredible Idea of North, the only full-time a cappella group in Australia. They have an incredible, polished sound with great entertainment value for any audience, from school appearances to packed performances at the Opera House. Other fantastic and more contemporary a capella groups include the unstoppable Pentatonix, the cheeky Sons of Pitches, and the exquisite Voctave.

BB: What keeps you motivated? Do you have any tips on how you were able to balance time for study and your other passions?

CF: To tell you the truth, I did have to stop singing with the Acappelicans during my last year of PhD as I really had to focus on finishing my thesis. However, I could never really keep away though and often found myself writing my thesis at their rehearsals, chiming in with suggestions (whether they were asked for or not!). We all need healthy outlets for our creativity, and it is just a part of life to schedule them into our routine, like eating vegetables or exercising.

BB: Are there any challenges in pursuing study and/or work in a typically male-dominated field? What advice would you give to young girls interested in pursuing science?

CF: In my experience, women and men, and everyone along the gender spectrum, are all equally capable in all areas of science (mathematics, physics, theory, programming, engineering etc.). The field of science needs creative, ambitious, passionate people to solve the world’s problems. We can’t afford to waste 50% of the population: diversity and teamwork are key!

To the young women pursuing science, I would say that it is a thrilling field with many career possibilities; lots of employers love candidates that know a little science. The everyday challenge is to continually recognise your own achievements, to actively integrate yourself with as many of your colleagues as possible, and to take failure as a part of the job.

BB: Lastly, what are your future hopes, dreams and plans? What challenge would you like to pose to SO’s readers?

CF: Well, with any luck, my PhD thesis will be approved in the next few months; after that, I’m not sure! Wherever I’m going, I’m sure it will involve putting my mathematics and programming skills to good use, or else, something in science communication! And, of course, the Acappelicans will keep me busy!

*SO Magazine Australia is proud to share their support for The Acappelicans. Make sure to check out The Acappelicans Facebook page and Youtube channel for details on future gigs, performances and latest updates.

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