What is your name?
Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. I am an astrophysicist.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Questions about your current Job
How did you go about getting your current job?
I currently hold an SFI-IRC Pathway Fellowship. After completing my PhD in 2011 I worked in Germany for 5 years before returning to Ireland to work on the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The technical and scientific expertise and skills I gained during this time put me in a great position to seek my own research funding. I successfully applied for a Pathway Fellowship in 2021 to work on JWST science, which commenced in June 2022, with my first PhD student starting in September 2022.
Describe a typical day.
My days are not terribly exciting. I work on a computer the vast majority of the time so I’m basically sitting at the desk in my office at work or at home. I spend some time reading and replying to emails from colleagues/students, then start work on whatever analysis or paper writing task I have lined up for the day.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Right now, working with the new data from the James Webb Space Telescope. It’s such a ground-breaking observatory that almost every observation reveals something new and exciting and I’m lucky enough to work on many observation programmes.
Recently I also supported commissioning of MIRI on JWST at the Mission Operation Center in Baltimore, US. Though it was an extremely busy and challenging time, it was awesome to be working there as the first images were taken.
Honestly, I’ve done lots of very cool things over the years. Too many to write here.
Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?
I often work long hours and weekends during busy periods which can be tough.
Questions about education and training
What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?
In secondary school, physics and maths would have been the two subjects that most impacted my career as they led me into a third level STEM course.
I loved all physics modules in college, especially astrophysics. Computational classes were also very enjoyable and learning to program had a huge impact on my career.
Questions about yourself
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Being on the team that successfully commissioned MIRI on JWST, winning a large funding grant, writing a review paper, winning observing time, lots more…
What is your dream job?
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.
It’s not easy to make a lifelong career as an astrophysicist. One can work for years in the field and be an excellent researcher but ultimately may have to move into industry, finance, etc. due to lack of funding or permanent faculty positions. It takes hard work, determination, and perseverance. There will likely be setbacks along the way but it’s a great career if you can make it.
These days, good data analysis and programming skills are essential so any work experience that involves writing code to analyse datasets and gain insights would be very useful.