Scholarship programme launched for physicists from under-represented groups

Oxford University has partnered with Galactic Unite, the non-profit collaboration between Virgin Galactic and Virgin Unite, to launch the Galactic Unite Joan Gillies Scholarship Programme for which applications open today (2 July 2013).

The programme will award four one-year scholarships totalling £30,000 for students undertaking the final year of the four-year Physics undergraduate degree at Oxford in October of 2013 and spring of 2014.

The scholarships will apply to the students’ fourth year of studies, which will commence in the fall of 2014 and 2015. The inaugural scholarships are open to talented Oxford physics students who are from under-represented groups, have outstanding academic records and aim to use their degrees to solve global challenges.

Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut and Scottish entrepreneur Brian Gillies provided the generous donation to make this scholarship program possible. He said: 'This donation was made in honour of my mother,

Joan Mitchell Gillies, who had to forego her own promising education and leave school at fourteen to support her family. My parents taught me about hard work, compassion and giving a helping hand to others when you can. My wish is that the Gillies scholars will go on in turn to use their talents to achieve – and help create a better world.

'I also hope that the Oxford scholarships will help overcome the reluctance of non-traditional groups, particularly young women, to make a career in physics in the UK, and hope my gift encourages others to come forward to support further promising students at Oxford.'

According to the Head of the Physics Department at Oxford University, Professor John Wheater, relatively few women and members of minority groups in Britain study physics at university. Even fewer take the four-year degree option, which opens the door to a physics career in the longer term.

'We think it’s important to encourage as many talented students as possible to pursue careers in the subject and not be put off by the prospect of an extra year of study and expense,' Professor Wheater said.

'This scholarship will hopefully encourage more students to take the next step toward a career in physics, and in the process create more role models for women and under-represented groups to stay on and embrace the study of the universe as a profession. Both talented students and the field of physics will benefit by finding the next generation of scientific leaders from the widest possible pool of talent.'

Galactic Unite is a global initiative, driven by Virgin Galactic's community of Future Astronaut customers in collaboration with Virgin Unite, designed to inspire and support students as they seek answers to global challenges through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and business entrepreneurship.

The Gillies Scholarship Programme is the newest in a series of scholarship programmes initiated by Galactic Unite to support science, technology, engineering and maths education.

'As the commercial space industry matures, we need bright young minds to contribute to and meet future growth,' said President and CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides.