Credit: Dr. Maggie Lieu

Interview

Maggie Lieu

Research Fellow at the European Space Agency where she is working on projects in preparation for Euclid, a space based optical/IR telescope planned for launch in 2021


Who are you and what do you do?

I'm Dr Maggie Lieu, a Research Fellow at the European Space Agency working at the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid. I have a Masters from the University of Kent in Astronomy, Space Science and Astrophysics, and a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Birmingham.

What does your role involve?

I'm trying to constrain the numbers that describe the universe we live in by studying clusters of galaxies.

How did you get your job? Was it easy?

I applied through ESA's webpage. It's a competitive programme, so of course it wasn't easy. Even with a PhD and a great proposal project to work on, there were still several stages to get through including a presentation in front of all the science staff on site and a gruelling interview. But in general, they are just looking for someone passionate in space, so try to be yourself and you will be fine.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I really enjoy the freedom to work on research that interests me and not just what someone else wants me to do.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Trying to coordinate with international collaborators when they are not in the office next door... you can send a million emails but they will probably only get back to you a month later!

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

Training at Star City for a long duration space flight. That is probably very unlikely, but working for ESA has already been a dream come true for me.

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

It has always been a natural pathway for me. I've always followed my heart, and I'm happy with the choices I've made. Scientific research is really liberating, and feeds the curiosity within me.

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

It would have been really useful if I had learned to code properly at university. I code all the time, and even though we had courses at uni, you never really learn how to code 'cleanly'. It's a really useful skill to have these days.

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

ESA were looking for an all rounded 'space ambassador', so for them I ticked all the right boxes. Surprisingly, not all astronomers are all that interested in astronauts and space! My love for all things space was not a decision I took in order to get the position at ESA, it was just me. But I think it significantly set me apart from the other candidates.

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

Just because you don't have a PhD in Astrophysics, doesn't mean you can't work for ESA. We have employees from all sorts of educational backgrounds.

What are some of your favourite things to do?

  • Going to the ESA gym at 7 in the morning to have the entire gym (and music system) to myself
  • Being on stage talking about my research and ultimately blowing the audiences minds away, while making them excited about science
  • I  have a crazy obsession with photography, I could spend hours playing around on photoshop

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

Currently I am most excited about the use of DNA for data storage and processing. I can envision a future where space telescopes no longer rely on small memory chips and the constant worry of data being accumulated so quickly that it can't be downlinked fast enough. Instead, DNA synthesisers will be used to store exabytes of data onboard.

If you were a member of UKSEDS, how did it benefit your career?

UKSEDS was definitely a highlight in my life so far. I used to be the Outreach Officer, which demonstrated my drive for public engagement and science communication. This helped in my job application. Also, I made friends and contacts with people in the space industry, many of which I am working with now.

Author

Christina MacLeod

Christina is an undergraduate student studying towards an MEng in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

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