This placement has been an unforgettable experience
I spent a year working as a support astronomer at the 2.5m Isaac Newton Telescope (INT) at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands.
While there I was responsible for setting up the INT and its instruments, wide field camera and intermediate dispersion spectrograph, ready for observing as requested by the visiting astronomer(s) before training them on how to observe at the INT. This opportunity to learn about new research in a wide range of fields from the astronomers themselves was really exciting.
On a few nights I would be responsible for observing the full night myself either on the behalf of other astronomers or from queued proposals (a perk being that I could submit my own proposals to the queue). This practical application has built on and cemented the skills and knowledge learned in previous observational and technical astronomy courses that I had done during my first three years at university, as well as problem solving and analytical skills.
This opportunity to learn about new research in a wide range of fields from the astronomers themselves was really exciting.
Physics and Astrophysics with Employment Experience MPhys
I was able to spend nights at other telescopes at the observatory too, including the Nordic Optical Telescope, the Mercator, the William Herschel Telescope, and the largest optical telescope in the world, the GTC, where I was able to join the HiPERCAM group for a night.
When not at the observatory, I worked on a project with a local astronomer studying the central binary stars of planetary nebulae resulting in a paper that has now been accepted to a peer-reviewed journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. This has given me my first real taste of astronomical research, something that I am now sure that I want to continue with a PhD.
As someone who has always loved observational astronomy, both the technical and scientific aspect and just looking up now and again, this placement has been an unforgettable experience which has really made up my mind on what career direction I want to follow.
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