Credit: Iwona Kapusniak

Interview

Anna Fogtman

Research Fellow at the Space Medicine Team, European Space Agency.


Who are you and what do you do?

I'm a Research Fellow at the Space Medicine Team, European Space Agency. I studied biotechnology and molecular biology, and I got a PhD in Systems Biology where I studied how genetic networks are inferred in response to environmental stress. Along my research, I was working as a data analyst in genomics and transcriptomics. 

What does your role involve?

At the Space Medicine Team, I'm a member of the Radiation Protection Initiative, and my job is to gather knowledge on radiobiology and review current models estimating health risks due to ionising radiation. My role also involves coordinating radiation protection activities within ESA, as well as steering European radiobiological research towards closing gaps in knowledge on biological response to ionising radiation. Given the goals of space agencies that are looking to the future with regard to new mission paradigms, my goal is also to facilitate the process of transition from the classical approach of combining tissue responses with stochastic modelling, to the next level risk assessment involving state-of-the-art expertise through an operational perspective.

How did you get your job? Was it easy?

Before I got this position, I was following ESA Positions newsletter for two years. It was the second ESA position I applied for and I have to say, it was a much better match to my qualifications. There was a series of two interviews, and during both I had to answer specific questions for the position I applied for. As I expected, it wasn't easy, which is why I took some time to prepare by reading literature on the topic and informing myself on other agency's activities in the field. 

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

Many people want a "space" position just because of "space" and try to pursue it by educating themselves in generic "space" topics. My advice would be to get a solid basic education in a topic you love and you're good at, and then find your way to "space". A solid base, passion and open mind can bring you to the stars. 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Working in an interdisciplinary field, where medicine, biology, physics and mathematics meet. Meeting interesting, passionate people and being able to learn something new from them every single day. 

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Learning a new topic which is very complex and requires adapting knowledge from fields which are not my speciality.  

Where do you want to be in 5/10 years?

In 10 years I see myself working for the European Space Agency on further advancements of radiation protection of European astronauts in deep space exploration. 

When did you become interested in space/the space industry?

At high school.

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

I chose biology and medicine because I was always interested in it and I got my degrees in it. For a long time I didn't realise that there would be a place in the space sector for someone like me, so when an opportunity came up to merge the field of my speciality with my hobby, I took it. 

Is there anything you wished you’d learned at university that would come in useful now?

Yes, there is. A solid mathematical background would facilitate my work.  

What decisions or opportunities you took do you think significantly influenced the fact you got that job? 

I think that my advantage, comparing to other candidates for this position, was an interdisciplinary background. My CV was not full of previous exciting positions, and I had no "space" experience. I was working for 10 years at the same institute, where I contributed to a number of scientific projects in medicine and life sciences.

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

I prefer to look to the future, so for me, the most exciting upcoming project is the Gateway - the Moon orbiting station.  

What are your favourite things?

My favourite things are those things I can do over and over again and it's never boring. So here they are: puzzles and escape games, watching Die Hard, eating dark chocolate with hazelnuts, looking at the night sky.  

Interview conducted on 12/8/19

Author

Jacob Smith

Jacob studies MSc Astronautics and Space Engineering at Cranfield University

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