Dr Maggie Lieu

Research Fellow, European Space Agency
PhD Astrophysics 2016

I'm currently continuing my PhD research, using clusters of galaxies to determine the cosmological parameters that govern our Universe. To do this I'm using statistical techniques to study their mass and growth. My job role at the European Space Agency is purely to do science, and it's very important because surprisingly only 7% of people at ESA work on science.

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
Since graduating from the University of Birmingham I've entered a work environment that requires a lot of independence on my part. There is no one working in my exact field of research, and very few working in science in general, but that’s also a good thing since I'm able to interact and learn from people of a diverse science background.

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
Currently the best thing I'm doing is my entire job itself. Working for a space agency is my dream! I'm working at the centre of all space science missions and regularly interact with people who are monitoring space instruments in real time. All my time is spent on what I love doing the most – science!

What motivates you?
I live in outskirts of Madrid and the weather is always great. I live in a beautiful area where it is surprisingly low in light pollution (perfect for observing the night sky). The city life is great but there are also many other things to do here (climbing, caving, hiking are just to name a few to keep me occupied). I guess then my motivation is just how wonderful life is.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
After spending a year in LA and 3 years in Kent, I wanted to be closer to my family and friends. I applied to Birmingham because it's a renowned University that is close to home. But also because it had a great group working in the field I found most interesting.

What are your fondest memories of the University?
My fondest memories of Birmingham has to be Astronomy in the City – a monthly public event that encouraged local people of all backgrounds to come learn about our research, see our facilities and interact with us. Although it was hard work, it was great fun to organise and is a great example of our teamwork and passion!

How did you grow as a person by coming to University?
Doing a PhD was no walk in a park. It was challenging but definitely worth it. I've definitely become a better researcher since coming to Birmingham and taken away some key skills that I will use for the rest of my life.

What did you think of the learning experience?
I think the learning experience at Birmingham was fantastic, unlike other PhDs that are purely research orientated. In the first year we participated in joint classes with other local Universities (Warwick, Nottingham, Leicester) that not only helped get us up to speed on the topics but also kick-started collaborations.

What inspired you most as a student?
We regularly had both external seminar speakers and colloquia speakers give lectures on their research and I really believe you can learn a lot from them especially when they are not in your field of research, it can inspire you to take a different perspective on problems in your topic.

What advice would you give to those considering a PhD in astrophysics?
My advice to current students is drink lots of coffee! And try to get into as much outreach as you can. Not only will it help you understand your topic better, it's great to educate the public and they will appreciate it and overall it looks great on your CV.