MIST

Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

Outcome of SSAP priority project review

From the MIST mailing list:

We are writing to convey the outcome of this year’s priority project “light touch” review, specifically with reference to those projects within the remit of SSAP. We would like to thank all the PIs that originally submitted ideas, and those who provided updates to their projects over the summer. SSAP strongly believe that all the projects submitted are underpinned by strong scientific drivers in the SSAP area.

The “light touch” review was undertaken with a unified approach by SSAP and AAP, considering factors that have led to priority project development (in STFC or other research councils) or new funding for priority projects (1/51 projects in the STFC remit) in the last 12 months. After careful discussion, it was agreed by SSAP and AAP not to select any project where the remit clearly overlaps with UKSA (i.e. space missions or TRL 4+), reflecting STFC’s focus on ground-based observations, science exploitation and TRL 0-3 development. Whilst in no way reflecting the excellence of the science, or community scientific wishes, this approach has resulted in some changes to the list of SSAP priority projects. However, now, unlike at the time of the original call, it is clear that such projects cannot move forwards without UKSA (financial) support, and such funds are already committed according to UKSA’s existing programme. SSAP remain strongly supportive of mission-led science in solar-system exploration, so SSAP have strongly recommended that the high-level discussions between UKSA and STFC continue with a view to supporting a clear joint priority projects call in future, more naturally suited to mission and bi-lateral opportunities.

The priority projects (and PIs) identified by SSAP for 2019/20 are:

  • Solar Atmospheric Modelling Suite (Tony Arber)
  • LARES1: Laboratory Analysis for Research into Extra-terrestrial Samples (Monica Grady)
  • EST: European Solar Telescope (Sarah Matthews)

SSAP requested STFC continue to work with all three projects to expand their community reach and continue to develop the business cases for future (new) funding opportunities. In addition, SSAP have requested that STFC explore ways in which the concept of two projects—“ViCE: Virtual Centres of Excellence Programme / MSEMM Maximising Science Exploitation from Space Science Missions”—can be combined and, with community involvement, generate new funding for science exploitation and maximising scientific return in solar-system sciences. Initially this consultation will occur between SSAP and STFC.

We would like to thank the community again for its strong support, and rapid responses on very short timescales. A further “light touch” review will occur in 2020, with a new call for projects anticipated in 2021. SSAP continue to appreciate the unfamiliar approach a “call for proposals with no funding attached” causes to the community and are continuing to stress to STFC that the community would appreciate clearer guidance and longer timescales in future priority project calls.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Helen Fraser on behalf of SSAP

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS)

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS) is an STFC Network+ with the goal of helping researchers within the Particle, Nuclear and Astrophysics areas to engage with researchers from other research councils and industry to study the near Earth space environment. For more details, visit the GNOSIS website or see this issue of the GNOSIS newsletter.

Over the next few years we expect a large increase in the number of satellites in Earth orbit. This will lead to unprecedented levels of space traffic much of which will end as debris. The aim of this network is to understand the debris populations and its impact on space traffic management with a view to enabling a safer environment.

The free GNOSIS lunch event will be held on 18 November 2019 at the British Interplanetary Society at Vauxhall, London, with a video link to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, to facilitate participation from across the UK. Tickets can be obtained here.

GNOSIS will be producing a programme of meetings for both space operations specialists and subject matter novices and will be able to support the development of collaborative ideas through project and part graduate student funding. Details of our first workshop will be announced in the next month.

If you are an academic with no direct experience but have knowledge of areas such as observations, data analysis, simulation or even law, then register your interest on our website. If you are a currently working in the space sector or if you are just interested in the aims and goals of the network please also register your interest and get involved.

SWIMMR: A £19.9M programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) is a £19.9M programme of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund.

MIST would like draw the attention of the research community to the potential opportunities which will become available as a result of this programme, which received final approval from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in August. The programme will run from now until March 2023 and is aimed at improving the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction. UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund provides a means for linking research council investment to governmental research priorities, hence the areas being emphasised in the programme reflect space weather threats to critical infrastructure, as reflected in the UK national risk register.

The programme will be delivered jointly by the STFC and NERC, mainly through open grant calls, but including some elements of commissioned work to be delivered through open competitive tenders. The first calls are expected to appear during the coming weeks. More information about the programme is available through the RAL Space website, and is forthcoming from the NERC web site.

To mark the official launch of the programme and provide more details of the planned activities, a kick-off meeting is being held in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday 26 November 2019, from 10:30. Pre-registration is required for this event and can be done using this link. We hope that many of you will be able to attend.

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.

Q&A with MIST Employers

Applying for a post-doc? Find out what the employers are looking for, what not to do, and how to make your application stand out!

Meet The Employers!

A photo of Clare Watt.A photo of Daniel Verscharen.A photo of Emma Bunce.

Clare Watt (left): Associate Professor at the University of Reading. 

Clare’s research focuses on space weather effects in Earth’s radiation belts and understanding the physics of wave-particle interactions in collisionless plasmas. Prior to working at the University of Reading, Clare worked at the University of Alberta, Canada, and completed her PhD at the British Antarctic Survey.

Daniel Verscharen (middle): Senior Research Fellow at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London.

Daniel researches the kinetic plasma physics of the solar wind and the solar corona. Daniel has also worked at the University of New Hampshire, United States, and the University of Bonn, Germany.

Emma Bunce (right): Professor at the University of Leicester.

Emma’s research focuses on the magnetospheres and auroral processes of Saturn and Jupiter. Emma is the Principal Investigator of the MIXS instrument on Bepi-Columbo, Co-Investigator on the JUICE and Cassini teams, and a Juno Science Team member.

What are the key things that you look for in a candidate? 

Clare: 

With every postdoctoral job advert, there is a full job description and person specification as part of the advert, and these can vary depending on why I’m hiring. But, the recurring themes are “has, or expects to hold a PhD in a relevant discipline” (not necessarily the exact subject of the job description), “ability to program” (difficult to any work in my group without), “evidence of ability to communicate science to specialist and general audiences” (usually in form of papers, outreach, blogs etc), “evidence of ability to work independently” (some candidates forget that the successful completion of a PhD is good evidence of this!), “evidence of ability to work in a team” (I prefer when candidates highlight this specifically rather than leaving me to guess from their CV). 

Daniel: 

It is important that the post-doc candidates demonstrate that they have their own ideas and interests. Although post-docs are usually hired as part of a project with pre-defined research themes, it is important that the candidates can apply their solid physics knowledge to develop a solution strategy for new problems. Remember that most projects discover very interesting and unexpected research pathways as they progress, and so I would not look for someone who can only perform the step-by-step research tasks as directed by the PI. 

Emma:

If someone is applying for a post-doctoral position it indicates to me that they are deciding (at least for now) that they are keen on an academic career in research. It is an opportunity for training, and as a post-doc supervisor I like to make sure that my people have as much opportunity to increase their skills and expertise in as many different areas as possible. So I am looking for someone who, as well as responding to the job specification, gives some insight as to what their aspirations are - it is not just about what the candidate currently has on their CV but what they feel would like to gain from being a post-doc and the potential for independence that they have.

How do I prepare for an interview?

Clare: 

Read the person specification!!! Legally, this is what the panel will use to decide between candidates and we’re not allowed to use other things to make the decision. 

Almost every panel I’ve been on has asked the candidate about their long-term career plans and how this job fits in. The right answer is NOT “I want to be an academic”, but an honest reflection on your own career plans and how the post fits in. The wrong answer is “I’ve just finished my PhD and I don’t know what else to do”. 

Daniel: 

In addition to reading the person specification, also read your own application documents again! You don’t want to be in a situation where you aren’t sure what exactly you had written about a certain point in your application (yes, that does happen!). A UK-specific peculiarity is this block of “standard questions” in job interviews (e.g., “what is your greatest weakness?, where do you see yourself in five years?”). There are plenty of websites with examples for these questions in UK academic job interviews. Read them and think about your answers!

Most interviews end with the question “do you have questions for us?” Be prepared with one or two questions about the place where you apply and your potential job. This shows interest and engagement.

Emma:  

Definitely lots of preparation! If you are asked to give a presentation, spend some time on this aspect of the interview and make sure it is well rehearsed (as you may be nervous). 

There are plenty of common interview questions out there which you can find online, but do resist giving the standard answers! I like to ask slightly different questions for this reason, but usually the responses fall into the main categories of questioning - why you, why here, why do we care about this research, where do you want to be in the future? And for your personal research - what are you most proud of, what aspect of your work has had the most impact. So your prepared answers to stock questions should be adjustable as you go along in the interview.

What do you expect from a postdoc compared to a PhD student in terms of their job responsibilities? 

Emma:

I hope that a post-doc will be growing in independence, and keen to do so. I also hope that a post-doc will be a good team player and helping the group around them. Day-to-day help with PhD students can be valuable experience and will increase your publications and possibly research topic experience, but be careful not to be distracted from your own research goals. I would like to see a post-doc looking for training opportunities, and I am keen to support them in endeavours beyond the immediate research that they are passionate about - for example science communication, volunteering, participating in discussion groups/committees etc. In an ideal world you are well organised and are able to plan and manage your time and tasks well. This is something we are all striving for!

Clare:  

More independence and responsibility. The research part doesn’t really change much, but you’re much more responsible for how you spend your time. There are many more possibilities for doing diverse things - profile-raising activities at conferences and on committees, much more reviewing, outreach possibilities.  I loved being a post-doc because there was a lot of freedom, but I had a huge amount of responsibility to ensure that the work progressed. Most academics will give you a bit of free rein, it is “research” after all, but you have to make sure you don’t disappear down a scientific rabbit hole that isn’t productive.

What should I put in my CV? 

Clare: 

Your CV should change depending on the job you are applying for. You should go through the person specification and make sections that help you to highlight your experience against the criteria. If the person spec suggests that you should show evidence of “working in a team” then you can have a section that lists your collaborations, what your role was, and what the outcomes were. Most academic CVs have a section on funding acquired, which may seem a little daunting if you’ve just finished your PhD, but getting travel funding is a competitive process, as is winning computing time on HPC clusters. If you have any of those things, then make a “funding” section too. 

Emma:

I would avoid using the standard phrases (“I am passionate and hard-working…”). I think CVs should be brief and cover the major essential and desired requirements for the specific job where possible and so will change with each application. Don’t be afraid to use bullet points or short statements. If you are writing a cover letter or personal statement to go alongside a CV then this is certainly the case, if not the CV should also contain a short personal statement. Avoid jargon and acronyms! Two pages is enough for a CV unless you are specifically told otherwise (usually plus a list of, or a link to, publications).

What are the biggest common mistakes that people make in their application?

Daniel: 

Make sure to spell-check your application documents very carefully before submission. Finding many spelling or grammar errors in the application document is often a reason for the panel to dismiss the application right away based on the lack of “good written communication skills”, which is often listed as a job requirement. 


In the written application and when you get through to the interview, use this opportunity to highlight your strengths. Some early-career post-doc candidates are too modest in the presentation of their achievements. For example, if you have published a result in your PhD that you are really excited about, say that very clearly. The same applies to your interest in outreach or your will to travel to conferences and collaboration meetings. Don’t expect that the hiring committee will read these things between the lines

Clare: 

Not reading the person specification! I’ve received many generic CVs for positions that don’t tend to get shortlisted because I can’t use the application to evaluate the criteria. In most cases, you will be shortlisted if you can demonstrate that you meet or exceed the criteria. Something as simple as missing the criteria that says “Must be able to program in Python, IDL, Matlab, Fortran or equivalent” - if you don’t explicitly address which programming languages you use in your CV or in the application form, then I cannot tick that box and you may not be shortlisted. 

How do I write my research statement?

Daniel: 

Important elements are: What research have I done in the past (highlight your expertise)? What are my research interests now and in the near future (highlight your fit to the advertised project)? Why do I apply to this specific job and what is interesting about it (highlight your fit to the institution and the research group)? Your research interests should fit directly to the job ad, although they don’t need to be completely identical.

Emma:  

As well as addressing the job specification, the personal statement is ideally the place where I get to know the person a bit more. I like to think that some of your personality can come through here, while retaining the required elements. Don’t just talk about the past, but address the future - why you are interested in the project for which you are applying and suggest what you can bring/offer to that programme of work.

Should I apply for jobs that aren’t directly relevant to my PhD research area?

Clare:

If you’re interested, then yes! Training is always available. If you know plasma theory, then you can apply it to a different part of the solar system. If you can do data analysis, then you can probably analyse most things. If you can do simulations, then you can usually broaden those skills to many different areas. Check the job spec - often experience/knowledge of the specific thing related to the job is in the “desirable” category, not the “essential” one. You’ve already demonstrated you can learn new things by doing a PhD. There’s not much to stop you branching out if you’d like to. Try to think of more generic descriptions of skills you have “data analysis of multiple large datasets”, “skills in modifying computer simulations”, that kind of thing.

Daniel: 

Your first post-doc is a great chance to change the field if you want to. The longer you work in a specific field, the harder it gets to apply to jobs in other fields. If you want to change, it is important that you express your enthusiasm and explain why you want to change. What makes you so excited about this new research? If you can convince the panel that you are really passionate about this and that they will benefit from having input from your perspective, then they will be more open to hiring someone from outside their narrow field.

Are my public engagement, outreach, and community activities important when applying for jobs? 

Emma: 

Absolutely yes, and these should be highlighted in your personal statement and experiences listed on your CV. Be careful to strike the right balance though - remember that a funded post-doc position will have been very hard to obtain (in the UK system) and will have a clear list of objectives that need to be achieved in a fixed amount of time. Appearing to spend a lot of time doing other things may be off putting for some PIs. Personally, I think a happy medium can always be found and I personally place a very high value on these activities for multiple reasons

Clare:

Most likely (check the job specification!) All of these are evidence of your ability to communicate science, and that’s half the job of being a scientist. Community activities and evidence of your ability to organise and work with others. These are all evidence of “soft skills” that are *just as important* as your technical skills. 

Daniel: 

Yes. Everything that highlights you as a passionate and dedicated person can be helpful. It is good if you do things that require organisational skills and engagement. These can include volunteering in clubs and public organisations, for example. Although the lack of these activities won’t be a deal-breaker for your application, they can give evidence for your motivation and engagement.

That's all! Thanks for reading and best of luck with all your applications!