Last week I attended the STFC Astronomy Introductory Summer School for incoming PhD students. It was held at Queen Mary University with something like 90 attendees. The accommodation was lovely – they weren’t huge rooms but large enough, and each had an en-suite bathroom. All attendees stayed in the same accommodation block which led to lots of chance meetings as you walked around to breakfast and lectures etc.
These were the first lectures I’d been to in over two years, and overall I really enjoyed them. I will be covering specific lectures and topics in future posts but there were a few things that kept coming up in lots of different contexts.
This is my summary of things I learnt over the week:
- Upcoming telescopes and missions:
- The Square Kilometre Array (SKA): a radio telescope array being developed in Australia and South Africa for first light in 2019. Precursors of SKA are ASKAP (Australia; already running) and MeerKAT (South Africa; 2015)
- The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST): an 8.4m optical telescope to be built in Chile. The LSST aims to survey the entire sky every few days, sending almost realtime alerts for new activity or moving objects. It’s going to collect 30 terabytes of data a night!
- The Atacama Large (Sub)Millimetre Array (ALMA): a millimetre and sub-millimetre telescope array in Chile. ALMA has just begun to make its first scientific discoveries (for example here and here).
- Gaia: this is a European space mission to accurately map one billion stars in our home galaxy. The measurements made by Gaia will help discover more about the origin, struction and evolution of the Milky Way (our galaxy) as well as find exoplanets using the ‘wobble’ of their parent stars as they orbit. Gaia is currently (Sept2013) in French Guiana awaiting launch before the end of 2013.
- The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST): an infrared and optical space telescope said to be the next generation after the Hubble Space Telescope. Currently scheduled to launch in 2018, this is probably the most famous mission of all on this list due to the funding debates about it in America
- Other missions/telescopes mentioned were Euclid, E-ELT and JUICE.
- One of the major challenges in astronomy/astrophysics going forward is the amount of data being collected and how to sift through and analyse it effectively. This came up most in talks about the Virtual Observatory and Citizen Science.
- Most of those who spoke to us had at least pretty good communication skills. A lot of them mentioned how important this is.
- All but two speakers (from my memory) assumed we were all going to become research scientists, even though this is incredibly unlikely.
- All speakers were male, due to an oversight by the organisers (not thinking about this until too late). This makes me a little sad that female speakers have to be actively thought about as the gender balance in astronomy clearly hasn’t been resolved yet.
- Almost everyone there could only explain the very beginnings of their project and we all got stuck very quickly after that. This made me feel much more prepared. It also made me want to get on with the reading I have!
- First year PhD students behave in a very similar way to first year undergrads when all put in one place. Lots of late nights and drinking occurs.
I had a brilliant week and met some great people, at least some of whom I hope to keep contact with (mostly on twitter I expect).
Thank you to all who helped organise the week, and to everyone else there. I hope to see lots of you again at future conferences.