Instrument scientist, European Southern Observatory, Germany
Country of birth: United Kingdom
Educational background: PhD Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, UK; BSc Physics, University of Glasgow, UK
Who or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
My basic interest in physics and math was backed up by support and encouragement from key figures at school and university, and also by my family. I am extremely grateful to all of them. For a smart, female teenager at that time, the expectation was to go in other directions that would not have provided the stimulating career and opportunities that I have enjoyed.
What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
I am an astronomer specializing in the development of instruments for large, ground-based, optical and infrared telescopes. Currently, I have a lead role in developing the instrument plans for the aptly named "European Extremely Large Telescope". This involves understanding the scientific goals that astronomers have for the new telescope, interpreting the requirements of the instruments, and working with builders to develop the designs. A highlight of my job is working in multi-disciplinary teams of scientists and engineers to achieve this. Each new astronomical instrument is typically one-of-a-kind, stretching the limits of what we can build, to provide astronomers with an innovative new tool to explore the Universe in a revolutionary way. In recent years, I have worked with a consortium building a new infrared spectrograph for the ESO VLT in Chile. The on-sky commissioning time will be an intense and exciting period, as we test what the instrument can do after a decade of design, lab tests, and anticipation!
Do you have advice for young women considering a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)?
Any researcher needs the skill of describing their work eloquently and confidently-from writing grant applications or tendering for work, to simply meeting someone at a conference. It may not come naturally, but can be acquired. Try it out on a supervisor or mentor, and don't sell yourself short! Remember that it's never too early to be a good mentor and to pass on your enthusiasm and support.