What is your name?
I work at the European Southern Observatory in Garching near Munich. My job is telescope scientist for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
I have been blessed not to have had to make real career decisions. Things just moved from one project to the next. I have been exceptionally lucky.
My PhD supervisor at Imperial College Peter Meikle, who taught me physics and how to be a physicist and Dave Allen at the Anglo-Australian Observatory (my first postdoctoral job) who taught me how to be an experimental astronomer.
Yes. Research must be one of the greatest jobs you can have. You are challenged continuously. At the same time, as any great job can be expected to be, it is extremely competitive. You don’t get to sit back and enjoy the ride. You make the waves and ride the surf. There are no patents on ideas in science. It is an open field. Just because you can do something, you may even be very good at it, it does not mean that you will get to do it in the academic environment.
Questions about your current Job
I was staff at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and decided that Australia was too far from Europe where my soul belonged so I applied for a job advertised at the European Southern Observatory. I was hired as an infrared astronomer to work on one of the first instruments for the Very Large Telescope. After a year I was moved to head the New Technology Telescope project and after that was completed, I headed the commissioning of the Very Large Telescope. After a decade in Chile, I was recalled to Garching to head the design of the European Extremely Large Telescope. When that moved to the construction phase, I spent a year leading the Square Kilometre Array project at Jodrell Bank before returning to the ELT as telescope scientist.
Email, meetings, some coding for computer simulations of the behaviour of the system, lots of reading and writing of documents and discussions with people.
I am responsible for taking the as built machine and making it work as a telescope that other astronomers can use. Since it is a prototype, there are many things that have never been done before so it is a bit like trying to set up the first television station when all that has been done up to now is radio. In principle it is the same, radio waves over the ether. The devil is in the details.
The details. Finding the things, you thought you knew but didn’t. It is a continuous questioning.
A telescope with a 1000 m2 of collecting area (that is 20 times more than when I was a student) is cool. A telescope with an adaptive mirror that changes shape 1000 times a second with 5000 actuators is cool. Being able to resolve the motions of stars inside globular clusters is cool.
I can read, write and am willing to work. I think I can read so that I understand what is written, I think I can write so that others understand what I have written, and am willing to work to help others succeed. If in a workplace you have people with these skills you are set.
Physics and maths.
I have a Batchelor’s degree in Physics and a PhD in astrophysics.
Learning to read and write.
My job teaches me things every day.
My participation in the discovery of the accelerating universe in 1998. The first light of the VLT in 1998 and the birth of my son in 1998. It was a pretty good year 1998.
I would not be able to answer this. You would need to ask someone else.
Only do this if you are having fun along the way. The statistical chances of academic employment are ridiculously low. So just enjoy the ride and get off when you no longer do. The skills you will acquire along the way are going to be useful in any field. Have fun because the time isn’t coming back.
You need to be able to be wrong. You need to be able to admit that you are wrong. You need to be able to accept that someone else is always going to be smarter than you.
Any summer job at a University Lab working with apparatus or data will inform.