An interview with a communications specialist in quantum

Manjeet K Sambi

UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing
Communications Officer

Having studied literature at undergraduate and postgraduate level, Manjeet worked in a number of different marketing and communications roles before joining the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Timing as a communications officer, based at the University of Birmingham. Having originally come from a humanities background and taken the leap into quantum, Manjeet found that being a non-expert in quantum was actually advantageous and has found it helps her to ensure communications about quantum sensing technologies and their applications are accessible to all. We caught up with Manjeet to find out more about her journey into quantum, what her role involves and advice she’d give to others hoping to work in a similar role.  

You have a background in literature, can you tell us a little bit more about your journey to working in the field of quantum?

My undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were in literature and writing, respectively. My first job was working at a newspaper in London, this helped me to gain an understanding of how this type of media operates and the different functions. I then moved to the University of London to work in communications in the Vice Chancellor's Office. A couple of months after I started, I helped to organize Foundation Day, the annual celebration of The University of London’s first charter, where the Chancellor, the Princess Royal, presents honorary degrees to recipients each year. In the year I helped with the event, Desmond Tutu was one of the honorary graduands, and gave an incredibly moving speech. This experience showed me that working in communications presents such amazing opportunities, whether it's in humanities or sciences. I then worked in several different roles, including a marketing/communications role at the Institute of Historical Research. I really enjoyed working with different historians, trying to bring history to life and show people the importance of remembering the past. I then moved to Birmingham where I took up a role at the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA), again in a communications capacity, however, this was a completely different experience. I had worked in the higher education sector for a long time and it was quite a change moving to a different sector but I learned an incredible amount about communications in a regulatory environment. The SRA had a particular style of communications which aimed to make everything as clear, simple and accessible as possible to everybody, and I still try to incorporate this in my writing now. After that, I moved to the University of Birmingham to work in my current role as a communications officer at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing.

What made you decide to apply for a role that was in physics, rather than in the humanities? Did you find the change in subject area difficult?

At school, I always engaged more with humanities more than sciences. However, I was keen to explore new avenues. I'm always really excited about writing about different subject areas and finding out new things, so I decided to go for it. I did find it difficult at the beginning, particularly with the complex terminology, so I would go home and read up about what exactly was going on, specifically about the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme generally, all the organisations involved and how it all started. My manager at the time was fantastic because she always emphasized the importance of understanding the impact of the Hub’s work. She always said that not being a scientist and coming from a different background was an asset because if I could communicate the science and impact in my writing in a way that I could understand it, as a layperson, other people would be able to understand it too and that's the overall aim. I try focus on the innovative impact of the technologies – what this will mean for everyday lives.  

What transferrable skills do you think you have gained throughout your career and what do you think are the most important skills for a career in quantum?

For me, I think the most important skill is being confident in talking to and approaching people, whether it's through email, by phone, or in person, it’s the relationships that you build with individuals that are really important. If we have events or meetings then I try to go up and introduce myself to people and make it clear who I am and that I'm really excited about promoting the work of the Hub and the expertise within it.

What experiences do you think are valuable for someone hoping to work in communications in the field of quantum?

I would say hone your writing skills. Don’t just write in isolation, share your writing with other people and get feedback from experts if you can. Perhaps you could do some work experience in a press office where you would be able to work with them closely, see what they do and have them provide feedback on your writing. Inevitably, your style will be your style, but it's really important to get that feedback from other people to help you craft and hone your skills. The skills you develop would then be transferable across all platforms from print media to web and social media and so on.

What would a typical day at work be for you?

I know everybody probably says this, but it's different every day! For me, this is because we're working on so many different projects. I normally start the day by seeing what's happening on social media, looking out for any exciting news across our partners or the other Hubs. Then I spend time contacting people with various queries and after that I try to do some writing, whether that’s on a news piece for our website, a press release or some social media posts. I also catch up with my colleagues in the Hub, as well as at the University (and the universities in our consortium) to ensure we align our communications as much as possible.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy how many different things I get to do. At the moment I’m really enjoying working with filming companies and freelance writers to create new content. People across all of the Hubs are really friendly - I get on with them very well and we work together a lot. I really enjoy this collaborative work ethic, I think it helps.  

Is there a particular application of quantum technologies that you are particularly excited to see the development of in years to come?

I’m excited about the timing research going on in our Hub. It’s the most difficult part of our research in terms of communication because people, understandably, think we already have accurate timing, but in actual fact, we don’t have standardized timing across the UK and it could make a real difference. With the help of optical clocks, we're trying to achieve independent, resilient timing, to help facilitate a strong national infrastructure for the future. Also, the impact of quantum technologies on healthcare is always exciting to me. Non-invasive brain imaging has endless possibilities and will help us to explore and understand dementia, ADHD and so on, much better.

What are your hopes for the future?

I really hope that people will understand the importance of what we're doing in quantum. I hope they understand that our existing infrastructure needs to be upgraded, that it’s not going to work for the future, and we need to do something about it now and quantum technologies can help. In terms of my career, I'm really excited about working in science, it’s such a cool area to work in and I hope I can continue. Quantum is seen as one of the most complex areas but there is so much innovation in this space and I’m excited to see that continuing to develop.  

What would you say to young people who are considering pursuing a career in STEM, particularly in a role like yours?

I would say don't restrict yourself to working in the field you think you should be working in; everything is open to you. Build relationships with people and learn from them and try to understand what everything is about. Be open to anything and you really can do whatever you want!