Career Profiles: Heidi Thiemann 

What is your name? 

Heidi Thiemann 

Where do you work and what is your role/job title? 

I’m a Researcher/PhD student at the Open University. 

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes my job does give me a pretty good lifestyle, one I’m happy with. I do a lot of travelling with conferences and going to telescopes, and that kind of stuff does help with the travel bug. I also have a pretty good work/life balance. As someone who can choose their own hours, I choose to work 9-5 like most people, but if I wanted to start at 7 in the morning, or 10 am, I can do that and just work however I like as long as I get stuff done. 


Questions about your current Job 

How did you go about getting your current job?
I got my PhD through a pretty standard academic route. I did my A-levels, went to University and studied physics, and then I applied for lots of jobs, both in academic and industry roles. It just turned out that I was offered this job first and I said yes to it, and I’ve been really happy with it.

Describe a typical day.
A typical day is, assuming we’re not in a pandemic, normally get up and commute to the office where I have (probably a little too much…) coffee to get me going for the day. I sit down and usually answer a few emails and then check out some papers. So papers are written by other researchers and I get them sent to my inbox and I check out a couple before I start my own work just to see what’s happening. After that it really depends… I might go to meetings with my supervisors or other people I work with in my astronomy research group, or I might just spend the day working on anything I like. I’ve got a huge amount of flexibility – So for example yesterday I just sat and wrote a paper for the entire day and went for a walk at lunch, but some days I might be told “You need to work on that…” so it really depends. It can be anything from sitting down and writing to being up a mountain on a telescope.

What’s the coolest part of your job?
Definitely the absolute coolest part of my job is being able to use telescopes. Not just remotely, I can (if I want to) sit in bed in my pyjamas using a telescope and just telling it what to do on a keyboard OR I can go and travel to a telescope. There are some amazing facilities in South Africa that I’ve used up in a kind of mountainous and remote region 5 hours drive out of Cape Town. It’s absolutely beautiful. You get to see the night sky incredibly clearly, you get to see the Milky Way and all the stars you’d probably never see if you were in a city. Just being able to stand out there in the dark is incredible, and then having control of this great big, massive telescope to actually look at these stars is even more fun.

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?

That’s a really good question and I’ve been trying to think of things I dislike. It’s genuinely really hard to think about what I don’t like about being a researcher. I guess I would say that, like any job, you have stress, and you have deadlines, and you have things that you have to do and they can sometimes build up every now and then…But I really enjoy my job, I absolutely love it and I have a great time doing it so I’d say there’s not really many negatives.

Questions about education and training 

 What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

At school I took all the sciences at GCSE and I also took astronomy as an extra one. I think I was the only person in my school that actually did that, and I kinda did that on my lunch break. Then at A Levels I took sciences – I took maths, chemistry, geography and physics. I used these to go on and study physics with Space Science and Technology at University. So having that good basis in physics and maths put me in quite a good stead for studying physics at university. 


Questions about yourself 

 What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
It’s kind of hard to tell because I’ve had quite a few exciting things I’ve enjoyed. I already mentioned that I’ve been lucky enough to go to telescopes and that’s been extremely rewarding. You go and make a plan, you collect data, and get to analyse it and produce something yourself. 

I also think the opportunity to travel and meet new people is one of the most rewarding things. I really love finding out about people’s research and about all the things they’re working on so when you get to travel to another country to be at a conference surrounded by other people in astronomy it’s just really rewarding and exciting. 

What is your dream job?

My dream job is definitely to be an astronaut. I’m gonna be completely honest with that. I still want to be an astronaut. I think since the age of 11 I’ve wanted to be an astronaut and that dream is still one that I want. I’m completely aware it’s probably not possible but it’s something I’d love to do anyway, to look down on Earth from Space. I think it would be incredible and life changing. If I’m more realistic maybe I would definitely love to continue either in astronomy (and be an astronomer for quite a long time) or maybe work more in the human space flight programs. The UK and Europe are basically gearing up to have their own launches and it would be really exciting to work on either human space flight or local launches. Imagine just going to Cornwall on holiday and watching a rocket launch! I think that would be great.


Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice 

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.
I think it’s really important to remember that researchers don’t have to be geniuses. There’s a common misunderstanding that you have to be a Stephen Hawking or an Albert Einstein to be a researcher, but you don’t. At school I wasn’t great at maths, I wasn’t great at physics and I wasn’t a top-grade student in everything. I think the characteristic you need is just being able to plug away at something and just put a little bit of hard work in. I think most researchers are willing to admit they’re not geniuses, they’re not the top of their field, but they want to try to do well. I think that’s the main thing – You don’t need to be top of your class, you just need to be able to put time and energy into something you love and that will do you well.