MIST

Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

Representing the MIST Community in award nominations

MIST Council has recently launched an effort to create an award nominations task force with the following aims:

  1. Actively contribute towards more equal representation and a diverse range of nominees for awards
  2. Recognise and promote the work of overlooked members of the community
  3. Provide a means for students and ECRs to gain experience in preparing an effective nomination package

The initial plan is to start by considering those awards given out by the Royal Astronomical Society. This is so there will be sufficient time to prepare nomination packages by the RAS deadline (July 2020), and the wide range of awards will allow us to consider the entire MIST community. The task force is spearheaded by Oliver Allanson, Jasmine Sandhu, and Maria-Theresia Walach.

This task force is inspired by Liz MacDonald, a heliophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liz Macdonald organized the Nomination Task Force within AGU’s Space Physics and Aeronomy (SPA) section, which has been summarised in an article in Eos. We plan to work in a manner similar to that described in the article, as we believe that by having a community task force we will be able to achieve community-wide representation in a timely manner.

If you would like to be part of the task force then please sign-up using our Google Form by Friday 4th October. At this stage we are not soliciting for specific ideas for nominees. Instead we are seeking to gauge support and receive feedback. We would like to emphasise that all members of the MIST community are welcome, and indeed encouraged, to sign-up to to join this task force, from PhD student to Emeritus Professor.

New MIST Chair and Vice-Chair elected

Congratulations to John Coxon on becoming MIST Chair, and to Jasmine Sandhu on becoming MIST Vice-chair in a unanimous vote at a Council meeting last week.
 
MIST Council elects a new Chair whenever the previous Chair steps down, and in addition this year, the council has decided to elect a Vice-Chair for the first time.
 
On behalf of the MIST community, we would like to thank Ian McCrea for doing a superb job as Chair during his tenure on the Council.

EGU elections now open

The call for candidates for the EGU 2019 elections is currently open, with a deadline of 15 September 2019. The following roles are up for election: Union President, General Secretary, and the Division Presidents. More details about these roles and how you can nominate yourselves/colleagues can be found on the EGU website. 
 
MIST Council would like to emphasise that this is an excellent opportunity to contribute to and shape the field on an international scale, and we hope to see members from the MIST community putting themselves forward.

Summer Science Exhibition 2020

The Royal Society is currently accepting proposals for the Summer Science Exhibition 2020, and the deadline for proposals is 10 September 2019. Further details on applying can be found here.
 
MIST Council would like to highlight that this is an excellent opportunity for cross-institutional collaborations! The MIST community is involved in a number of projects with a particularly timely aspect (e.g. Solar Orbiter and SMILE), which would be very appropriate to propose to the Royal Society. If you are currently preparing a proposal that you are happy to invite community members to join or you have an idea for a proposal that you would like to work with the community on, then please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with a short outline by 9 August 2019. We hope to then share these projects with the community to build support for the proposals and involve the wider community!
 
We will be discussing this further and sharing ideas on the #public-engagement channel on the MIST Slack workspace. If you aren’t on the MIST Slack workspace then click here for details.

2019 Rishbeth prize winners announced

We are pleased to announce that the Rishbeth Prizes this year are awarded to Affelia Wibisono and Michaela Mooney , both of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UCL).
 
Affelia Wibisono wins the prize for the best MIST student talk, entitled “Jupiter’s X-ray Aurorae as seen by XMM-Newton concurrently with Juno”. Michaela wins the best MIST poster prize, for a poster entitled “Evaluating auroral forecasts against satellite observations”.
 
MIST Council would like to congratulate both Affelia and Michaela. As prize winners, Affelia and Michaela have been invited to write articles for Astronomy & Geophysics, which we look forward to reading.

Packing up and Postdoc-ing in Germany

by Hayley Allison

On the 29th March (the first Brexit day that never was) I submitted my PhD thesis and, after a few rounds of celebratory drinks in the pub, returned home to spend the evening and the next day packing my most important belongings into two suitcases. On the 31st March I moved to Germany, ready to start a new postdoc on the 1st April.

In hindsight, that timeline, while sufficient on paper, was completely exhausting. However, moving to Germany has been one of the biggest decisions and most exciting things I have ever done and I would repeat it in a heartbeat.

Posing outside Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Posing outside Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

How I knew I wanted a postdoc

I undertook my PhD at the British Antarctic Survey/University of Cambridge and am now a postdoc at GFZ German Centre for Geosciences. 

Looking back, it was at the start of the third year of my PhD that I knew for certain that I wanted to continue with academia. I had toyed with the idea throughout my PhD, but I realised then that there were many ideas and projects I still wanted to explore and I wouldn’t have time to do them all during my PhD. I decided that while science continued to excite and motivate me, that was the career I wanted to pursue. Finding a postdoc would be a challenge, but realistically, other than a bit of lost time, it wouldn’t hurt to try!

For me, my main reservation with taking on a postdoc position was the insecurity and the short-term contracts. Sometimes funding uncertainties do worry me, but in my opinion, getting to do a job I love is worth it. I get to spend my days working on interesting problems, talking to outstandingly intelligent people, and travel abroad at least once a year! Even if I only get to do that for a few years, it seems like a pretty great way to earn a living. 

At the start of my PhD, the idea of moving around while following the postdoc track had made me wary of the idea – in fact it terrified me. Choosing to uproot your life every few years is a scary thing to do, but moving offers a fantastic opportunity to work with different people, make new friends, learn new things, and experience other countries/cities. By the last year of my PhD my priorities had shifted so that these factors were important to me and moving no longer seemed (as) frightening. 

Finding this postdoc and the application process

Although I had made the decision to look for post-doc positions at the start of my third year, it wasn’t until that summer (nine months left) that I applied to my first one. Actually, I think that was a tad too early. It depends on the situation, but slightly closer to when I was ready to finish might have been better as generally the preferred start date was a few months after the interview. 

Finding this postdoc was the result of a rather sudden phone call one evening from the head of the Magnetospheric Physics group at GFZ. We had met previously at a Fall AGU poster session and he knew my PhD supervisors well. I spoke to him several times throughout the first AGU meeting I attended and he kindly invited me out to dinner with the GFZ group. Personally, I find the AGU poster sessions to be excellent places to meet people you have only seen on papers and actually talk to them about their work. As the whole poster session setup is about approaching people, it is one of the easiest places to introduce yourself.

During the phone call he told me about an opening in his group working on the radiation belts (my PhD focus) and then emailed me the link for the application. I distinctly remember thinking that I wasn’t qualified enough for the role. It was listed as a research scientist/senior research scientist and had items like ‘experience leading a research group’ in the requirements. Despite this, I applied and was offered a Skype interview (spoiler alert, I was ultimately offered the position, which just goes to show that even if you don’t meet all the criteria, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply). On Skype, I gave a short presentation about my work and answered a number of questions, which all-in-all took about 40 minutes. That was the first time that I had done something like that over Skype and although I wasn’t happy with my performance, a few days later they invited me for a real interview and to give a seminar to their group.

Flying to Potsdam was very fun and very tiring. It was a two day visit during which I spoke individually to each member of the group about the work they were doing, gave my presentation, and had an in-person interview. At the end of the first day, we went out to a lovely restaurant… but I was so unbelievably tired. I had gotten up at 2.30am that morning to catch my plane (I chose the flights I wanted, so I only had myself to blame) and it was 10pm before I got up the nerve to excuse myself. I had reached the droopy eyelid stage and decided I would rather be the person who left early than the person who fell asleep during the conversation.

I left Germany feeling like the interview and visit had gone well, but the key issue was the start date. They wanted someone to start the following month (November 2018) for funding reasons, but I still had to write my thesis and finish up some of my work. My PhD funding didn’t end until April 2019 and I wanted to start the postdoc at that point. Starting before would have put extra pressure on me and meant that I would have had to start a postdoc and write up my thesis at the same time. For me, starting before April was a deal-breaker. A few days later, they rang me to offer the job with an April start date and I was given a week to think about it before I accepted.

While I was lucky to be contacted about the GFZ postdoc, other fantastic ways to find postdoc positions are the MIST and GEM mailing lists. Also, approaching people directly is another option. Sometimes there are funding opportunities coming up or some money that could be used for a short postdoc and it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Photograph of the old market square in Potsdam, taken during my visit to the GFZ group for the interview.
Photograph of the old market square in Potsdam, taken during my visit to the GFZ group for the interview.

What it is like living and working abroad

I was completely terrified on that first Monday when I started at GFZ; not to mention exhausted and burnt-out from the thesis write-up. There were many new names and accents to learn and admin tasks to do, but everyone I met was so nice. They remember what it is like on their first day and how long it can take to settle in. Really I had nothing to worry about, but it was about a week before the nerves subsided. Receiving emails in a different language, having a German keyboard, and a computer initially set to German didn’t really help with the nerves either. A lot of the computer and account setup emails I received were in German, so Google Translate became a permanent bookmark.

Map highlighting Potsdam

Map highlighting Potsdam

Aside from the postdoc work, there were many other tasks that I needed to do because I had moved country. Things like applying for a bank account, health insurance, registering myself with the tax office, registering my address, etc. All of these things needed to be done in person via appointment and honestly were just added stress. Thankfully, not only was there a GFZ Welcome Centre which could help and advise with these tasks but my colleagues were also a fantastic source of knowledge and more than happy to help.

One thing that I had never experienced before moving was not being understood myself because of my accent or colloquial words. I never thought I would be explaining why we occasionally say “five quid” instead of five pounds when I accepted the role. After a few weeks, I could understand everyone perfectly and they could understand me.

I have been asked quite a lot how is it living in a place where you don’t speak the language. I am learning German, but I can’t really speak it yet. Unfortunately, the idea that you pick up a language very quickly if you move to the country is not particularly true. I find that if I wanted to, I could avoid the German language all together. Aside from the odd interaction, I work in English, I browse the web in English, I speak English at home, I watch Netflix in English, etc. Think about what you say to people that you don’t know regularly: you buy a ticket, you order food, you say “excuse me”. Really, that is a very limited number of words – and you learn how to say those very quickly and that’s sufficient for day-to-day life. That being said, you have more opportunities to integrate and meet people when you speak the language and I think it’s important to try.

In this post I have spoken very positively of moving because that’s been my experience, but I do want to say that moving to a new place is not without its challenges. You leave behind friends, family, plants… I was incredibly lucky that my boyfriend also agreed to move with me, making the whole process infinitely easier. Plus my grandparents kindly agreed to care for my coffee tree, the other great love of my life. Of course I miss friends and family, but it is easy to contact them. Friends have already come to visit me and it’s not difficult to get home should I need to. Europe is very well connected by plane, train, and bus if you so wish.

Oddly enough, I miss things I had never even thought about. I miss British tea. The tea is different here and I end up bringing back massive quantities of teabags every time I visit the UK. I miss being able to read magazines and pick a book in a bookshop or library. Instead I make much more use of my Kindle now. It’s easier and quicker than ordering a book online to be delivered. I also miss (missed) British bedding. In Germany, double beds have two single duvets on them – everyone gets their own cover. Also, the pillows are square instead of rectangular and, together, this amounts to a very different sleeping experience. For most things I have just adapted, but this was just too much and, after two weeks,I ordered brand new duvet set from the UK.

Moving abroad has been so much fun. It has changed how I view German culture and also British culture. I have been to new places, met new people, eaten new food, and I am sure that I will have many more new experiences throughout the remainder of my postdoc here.

Tips for finding a postdoc

  • Ask for advice from postdocs/fellows/permanent staff. I had so many ‘how to have a science career’ chats in the pub and they were honestly all so helpful!
  • Ask around to see if there are postdocs available or coming available – or even just odd money that could fund a short postdoc position.
  • Pay attention to mailing lists like GEM, MIST, SPA, etc.
  • Network – introduce yourself to new people at meetings and conferences.
  • Ask for feedback from unsuccessful applications.
  • Remember that start dates are negotiable.

Tips for moving abroad

  • Make use of any Welcome Centre.
  • Join expat groups on Facebook to find friends and things to do in English.
  • Throw yourself into the language and don’t let any worries that you don’t speak it hold you back from moving to a new place.
  • Research all of the “moving country admin stuff” you need to do.
  • Make the most of it – time flies!

If you have any questions about starting a postdoc abroad, then you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..