Interview

Tim Hewlett

Tim is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews, studying the growth of supermassive black holes through time.


What does your role involve?

Most of my time is spent reading papers in journals, incorporating those ideas into my own research, writing that research up in journal articles and attending conferences and meetings to talk about science.

How did you get your job? Was it easy?

I knew I wanted to study black holes and my background was in astrophysics, so I looked at universities offering related PhDs and emailed potential supervisors. Some didn't respond, some took several weeks, others responded promptly and with questions of their own. I had several interviews and in the end chose the supervisor who had showed the most interest in my work thus far. This was, I think, a good way of choosing a supervisor who would be supportive and good to work with.

What advice would you give to people looking for a job in your industry?

Think hard about what really fascinates you before applying. PhDs are a long slog and there are likely to be times when you feel dispirited, a passion for your subject will help insulate against fatigue.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Freedom to manage my own time and work, and a great environment in which to learn important and interesting things.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Learning to deal with persistent failure.

How did you decide which aspect of the space industry to work in?

I've always been more academic than hands-on, and I'm fascinated by black holes and cosmology, so going into research was a no-brainer for me!

What is the most exciting space thing you’ve seen or heard about?

The possibilities for gravitational wave astronomy are really exciting. From LIGO and the planned space mission LISA to pulsar timing arrays (measure the ticks from spinning neutron stars all around the galaxy to measure the distortions of spacetime between us and them), it would be almost surprising if this didn't transform our understanding of the Universe.

Author

Heidi Thiemann

Heidi is a PhD student studying variable stars using SuperWASP at the Open University.

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