Guest post of Prof Mark Gieles: The wanderings of an astrophysicist: from the Netherlands, via Chile, Edinburgh and Cambridge to Surrey

As a final year high school student I went to open days at Dutch Universities, trying to find out what I wanted to do later. Later? I did not really know what that meant. So I passively absorbed the information given to me by enthusiastic staff and students in colourful T-shirts. I had an interest in astronomy and I remember the advice from a PhD student in astrophysics at Utrecht University (in the Netherlands): “As an astrophysicist you get to travel a lot to nice places for conferences and observing, which is great!”. The advice from one of the professors, was similar, but sounded more like a warning: “If you want to become a professional astrophysicist, you need to be prepared to travel a lot, and work in different places in the world.”

Two weeks ago my wife and I arrived in Guildford to continue our careers at the University of Surrey. Together with Justin Read, who arrives in 6 weeks, I will start an astrophysics group within the Department of Physics. We will offer astronomy modules for the Physics with Astronomy course that starts this year. Our research program focusses on star formation, the evolution of dense stellar systems and the formation and evolution of the Milky Way galaxy.

Justin and I have a strong interest in computational astrophysics, and our group will be gearing up for the results that will come from the ESA-Gaia satellite. These results will allow us to determine the positions, distances and velocities of about a billion stars in the Milky Way. We are currently in the process of appointing 2 lecturers, and we are recruiting 2 more post-docs and 2 PhD students.
Now I think back to that Open Day: I did enrol in astrophysics in Utrecht, and I made my first observing trip to Chile as a masters student. I continued to do a PhD and took up a 3-year Fellowship of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, to continue with a Royal Society Fellowship at the University of Cambridge after a 3 months stop at the University of Edinburgh. So the PhD student was right, it is great!