At CSMS, we place research at the heart of our work. All our students are strongly
encouraged to undertake their own research project alongside their A-Levels, supported
by a team of specialist teachers and our exceptional links with local, national and
international universities and organisations.
We talked to alumni Sarah Pengelly about the extra-curricular research projects she
completed at CSMS – and how they have helped her secure an internship with the Ministry
of Defence this summer!
Hi Sarah! So, you studied elsewhere for your GCSEs and then joined CSMS to
complete your A-Levels. What made us stand out from other sixth forms?
I went to a VI Form Academy Open Day. CSMS has a really strong focus on STEM which is
something I knew I wanted to end up doing. Also the research projects were really
attractive and a good Maths department was very important for me – the Maths
department is outstanding at CSMS!
The opportunity to go on trips was another part of why I wanted to study at CSMS. They
sounded really impressive and the connections they have with different schools around
the world are incredible!
What international trips did you go on?
My first trip was to Thailand, which was amazing and the best trip I’ve ever been on. All the
trips are 10 days long; five days of culture and five days of science. I went for the Asia
Pacific Conference for Young Scientists where I presented a MELT project about glaciers.
We got to go to the beach and temples, but we also visited a school called KVIS which
had new research-focused equipment and really strong links with nearby VISTECH
University. You had to do specific tests to get into that school and it was very impressive!
My second trip was to Singapore, which CSMS paid for! We did interviews and competed
to get places, which was amazing because it meant that your financial circumstances
didn’t matter. I also got a bursary for one of the summer schools I did through the
What subjects and extra-curricular research projects did you undertake at CSMS?
I studied Maths, Further Maths, Physics and did an EPQ. The support for extra-curricular
work is great – you’re really encouraged to explore things beyond the normal curriculum. I
appreciated the support for EPQ, because I wanted to do a research project and CSMS
offers really strong support with extra research-based projects.
I think my EPQ was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I did a research project on whether
cloud cover in the atmosphere affects the number of muon particles that get to ground
level from cosmic rays. Through CSMS’s links with IRIS, I got to use a particular detector
from CERN! It was super cool.
I did a lot of work with the MELT project, which was using data that was collected by the
ESA and University of Leicester to measure the rate at which glaciers in Greenland and
Antarctica were moving. I got to use synthetic aperture radar, which is the way the
measurements are taken using a satellite.
I was involved in an IRIS genome project as well, which was about editing the genome of
the human whipworm which is a type of parasite that scientists are analysing to try and get
rid of. I presented findings at the International Student Science Fair in Singapore.
Wow! How have these projects helped open doors for other opportunities?
I’ve actually secured an internship with the MoD, so I’ll be working in Salisbury this summer! Since coronavirus hasn’t given me a lot of opportunities to get experience
outside of school, being able to talk about the IRIS projects I did at CSMS really helped
me, and the MELT project was actually referenced pretty heavily in my interview feedback –
so the programme has had a positive impact for me even after leaving sixth form!
CSMS made us aware of the opportunities, and they were great at offering support but
also letting us be in charge of our own projects. These are really useful when applying to
universities because they give you a lot of extra-curricular examples to talk about, and
again while you’re at university applying for summer internships and extra research
What are your personal ambitions for the future?
I’m currently in my second year studying Physics at Manchester. I love Manchester, it’s a
great city, so I hope I’ll be able to stay here after university – but if there was a job
elsewhere that I really wanted I’d go for it. I really like computing and consultancy so I’m
hoping to go into the tech sector.
What would you say to someone who was considering studying at CSMS?
I would say that it’s a great choice for students who want to go into STEM. If you like
research and doing project-based work, CSMS will give you everything you want!