Ian Cowley, Addenbrooke's NHS Trust, Cambridge 20/May/2022 - London time is 02:05 (BST)
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Wansdyke School Well, how far back do we want to go? I started life at Wansdyke CoE County Primary School. Spent school years R through 6 there (for the non-English or older generation, that's what used to be called 1st year infants through to 4th year juniors, or from age 5 to 11). It was a primary school. We did pretty much everything, from playing with the sandpits to playing with the water tank. Whilst at Wansdyke I took my Cycling Proficiency test and passed with flying colours!

Devizes School Went up to Devizes Comprehensive School in September 1991. Studied all sorts befitting a boy of 11, including basic economics (how to keep dinner money away from the bullies), botany (the Holly Bush), fluid dynamics (flushing toilets), athletics (running away from the Dinner Ladies) and of course English (also known as Swearing Part 1).
I studied for my GCSEs (age-16 exams) at Devizes School, and they were kind enough to let me take my Mathematics GCSE 2 years earlier than everyone else in my class. I had to study on my own for it, but I passed with an A* grade, so that was pleasing. Other GCSEs I got included English (Lit & Lang), Double Award Science, Geography, Spanish and Photography. I achieved an A* grade in all but the English Lit and Photography courses (got A grades in those).

In September 1996, I stayed at Devizes School to study for my A-levels (age-18 exams). The School made me do my Maths A-level during my last two years of GCSEs, so I got a A-grade in that at the same time as the other GCSEs, again two years early. I was fed up with teaching myself maths, so did none during my real A-levels (a mistake I was later to realise).
I studied Geography, Physics, Chemistry and (sort of) General Studies, and got A-grades in all of them. With a clutch of 5 A-grade A-levels, I applied to and got into Cambridge University!

Christ's College Crest In October 1998 I matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge University to study Natural Sciences. Cambridge doesn't do science degrees in the same way as other universities in the UK. Most will do a straight Physics or Chemistry course, but Cambridge does Natural Sciences. Basically, one studies 4 modules in the first year, three in the second year, then specialises into whichever subject they want in the third (and 4th if doing a 4-year course) years. Because it's not a 'pure' science course, the 3-year course is awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) while the 4-year course is awarded a BA and an MSci. Had I gone to Imperial or similar for four years, I'd have had an MPhys, but at Cambridge I got two degrees for doing a 4-year course - rah!
During my course, I studied such diverse (!) modules as Chemistry, Physics, Materials and Mineral Science, Maths (all my friends had done Further Maths A-levels, whereas I had done no maths for 2 years - big mistake), some more Physics, some more Maths and then a load more Physics. In my third and fourth years, I specialised onto the Experimental and Theoretical Physics course. The fourth year was fun, because we got to choose the physics modules we wanted, and among the 6 I chose was Medical Physics.
Medical Physics was quite a laugh. I chose it mainly because it looked like it didn't have any quantum mechanics in it, and it was probably going to be quite easy - after all, it's just biology, and biologists still cut out graphs and weigh the paper as a way of integrating. Right? Wrong. Medical Physics was actually quite a tough course, what with x-ray scattering, doppler shifting, MRI (yuck!), fourier reconstruction of CT images and all sorts. Still, I managed to pick the right questions in the exam and got my best 4th-year mark of 39/40 for the module!
This helped me to graduate with a 2:1 in the fourth year. Not bad - a 2:1 from Cambridge, with both a BA(Hons) and an MSci. I can even put (Cantab) after the MSci if I want. Cool, huh?

One of the Medical Physics lecturers was Simon Thomas, head of Radiotherapy Physics at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, and one day he wandered into the lecture and told us there was a job going in his department if anyone was interested. I had a look at the job description. It turned out it wasn't just a job, but a 3-year research post, part- funded by Siemens Medical, and that the research would be registered as a Ph.D. Having nothing else lined up, and with the idea of a paid Ph.D., I applied for and got the job!

Thus ends this brief(ish) journey through my educational career, and onwards towards the mythical land of salaries, income tax and pensions!


I can't really remember what my first paid job was. There was probably some freelance cleaning-out-the-budgie and washing the car, but I'm pretty sure my first regular paid job was emptying the dishwasher. In exchange for my weekly pocket money of 1 (or was it 2? It was about 1990 at any rate), it was my job to empty the dishwasher when it was clean and fill it with any dirties we'd managed to produce since it was last run. It wasn't the most exciting job in the world, but it paid.

Devizes News Getting a paper round when I was 12 significantly increased my earnings. I took over my brother's old round (he's 4 years older than I am), and Devizes News added a few more streets at the same time. I was paid 1.5p per newspaper delivered - it was the local free weekly and therefore didn't pay well, but it was easy. The paper was thin (I hated the weeks when it was more than 20 pages) and every house got one, so it wasn't very hard. But it did seem to rain every Wednesday. Without fail. Still, with a round of nominally 400 papers (DN were appalling at estimating the number of houses in a road - I normally threw out 50 papers a week, all of which I got paid for), I was paid a princely 6 or so a week. Fab stuff. It even got to the stage where I employed a mate of mine, and we shared the money, but he kept on not turning up, or being late, so I sacked him...

At the same time as the paper round (although starting slightly later...when I was 14 probably), I also did sticking-up for the local skittle team for which my Dad played (and still plays). I got paid 6 an evening (I bartered them up from 5 when I took over from my brother), once a fortnight when the team played at home. And I got bought drinks by Dad (usually Coke, but occasionally a Worthington's shandy). It was a fairly easy life - player throws a ball, I clear the ball and fallen skittles. Repeat. Player throws third ball. I give enough time for the teams to count the fallen skittles, then replace the skittles, send the balls back down the chute to the players, and wait. 9 players per 2 teams, over 5 legs. Pretty easy stuff, and it meant I got to stay up late on a Wednesday. Yup, Wednesday again. So on Thursdays I was loaded, but also very tired after a paper round and sticking-up session.

Budgens When I turned 16 it was time to get a proper job. One with a uniform and taxes and hours and things. So it was off to one of Devizes' many supermarkets. I ended up In Budgens because my mum worked with the manager's mum and got me an application form. Starting on a paltry 2.16 an hour, I stayed at Budgens for just over two years. I had given up the paper round about a year previosuly, but continued the sticking-up until I was about 17 I think. I finished at Budgens around the time of my A-levels, to go to the NFU. My final hourly wage at Budgens was 3.78, and I was usually doing about 40 hours a week - loadsa money! In my time at Budgens I did such exciting things as stacking shelves, facing-up of the shelves, checkouts, delicatessan, National Lottery terminal, stocktaking, cleaning, admin, supervising. Pretty much everything. I was about the only person there that knew how to do more than one thing (and by that I mean more than one thing at once, like breath and think!), so I was pretty useful, and it meant I got to do just about everything, which was good.

NFU My mum worked at the NFU's Computer Services, and told them how great I was with computers. They had me in for a couple of afternoons to man the phones while they went to the pub when people left, and when they realised that the rollout of NT4 to the whole of the NFU was going to involve building 400 PCs or so, they got me in to help after I finished my A-levels. My basic job over the summer of 1998 was building PCs (software, not hardware). I did quite a lot - about 300 in total, and when I finished that lot, I helped with some general looking after the network. Only on 3.50 an hour for 35 hours a week, but at least it was fixed hours, with plenty of tea breaks, and not under the tyrannical rul of the Budgens manager, Mr Ponting. I really enjoyed working at the NFU, but had to go off to university.

During my vacations back in sunny Devizes between terms at Cambridge, I went back to the NFU several times, and Budgens twice. The return to Budgens was purely 'cos I had nowt else to do. Was quite cool the first summer though, as I was working on the Deli counter at Budgens when Dafydd, my line manager from the NFU wandered in to get some taramasalata and offered me a job for the summer. Fab. Every time I went back to the NFU during those vacations I got a better hourly rate until I hit the heady heights of 6.50 an hour! At that sort of level, National Insurance and Income Tax kicked in though... I then had a bit of a falling out with the NFU guys in the summer after my second year and haven't returned since. Bit of a shame really, as I really enjoyed working there and wouldn't have minded getting a job there when I graduated.

Addenbrooke's NHS Trust So, we get to my fourth year, attending the medical Physics lecture course at the Cavendish Physics Labs in Cambridge. Simon Thomas, head of Radiotherapy Physics at Addenbrooke's Hospital nearby mentions something about a job in his department and gives those interested some information. I had nothing else lined up yet (having only just thought about recruitment agencies and things) so thought it was worth a shot. It turned out the 'job' was actually a Ph.D. funded by Siemens. I applied for it, along with 6 other people I believe, and was called in for an interview. I had to give a 5-minute presentation on The verifcation of IMRT, which seemed to go down well when I gave it. A week later and I was offered the job! Yay! Accepted and started a few weeks after graduating, in August 2003.

So, this tax thing then? Right pain. Not too bad though, as I got a 7% payrise the day I started - the contract I had signed was out of date, and the recent pay-scalre restructuring in the NHS jacked me up a bit. Huh, I only see 53% of any payrise though, as it all vanishes in tax, NI, student loan, pension and so on. Yuck. Yes, I have a pension. Yes, it makes me 45 and boring. But it was a default option, and it seems silly to back out now as it seems to make sense to start early, right?

That brings us roughly up to date - I'm just finishing the first year of my job, and we'll hear soon if it's been accepted as a Ph.D. by the Open University. And thence onto glory, fame and and an NHS pension! Why did you want to know all this information? I'm not really sure. I meant to do a sort of summary of my education and jobs to date, but it seems to have gotten a little out of hand. Oh well, hope you enjoyed reading it!

June 1994MathematicsA*
June 1996Double Award ScienceA* A*
June 1996English LanguageA*
June 1996English LiteratureA
June 1996SpanishA*
June 1996GeographyA*
June 1996PhotographyA
June 1996MathematicsA
June 1998PhysicsA
June 1998ChemistryA
June 1998GeographyA
June 1998General StudiesA
Higher Education
June 2001BA (Hons) Natural Sciences
Christ's College, Cambridge University
June 2002MSci Experimental and Theoretical Physics
Christ's College, Cambridge University
1991Cycling ProficiencyPass
1988-1991Swimming Awards:
10m, 25m, 50m, 100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 3000m
Bronze Award, Silver Award, Gold Award
Personal Survival 1, Personal Survival 2

Ian Cowley, September 2003

This page updated on 18 December 2015 at 22:21