FYST presentation on April 4, 2024

Film credit: Niclas Carl, Adam Polczyk

● W3 Professor for Theoretical Astrophysics
● President of the German Astronomical Society
● Speaker of SFB 1601

● I. Physics Institute, Department of Physics, University of Cologne
● Cologne Center for Data and Simulation Science, University of Cologne

Credit for photo: @janabauch

🌍 Why did you choose to be a physicist?

– I always knew I wanted to understand how the nature works, so studying Physics was the obvious answer. During my gymnasium, I also chose to do a thesis in Physics to measure the piezo effect. I performed the experiment with my father who was leading a lab at a microchip company. I loved doing those measurements with him as it showed me the power of understanding physics via such measurements. Continuing to pursue a career in Physics was also impacted by the fact that a lot of my colleagues during my Ph.D. and postdoctoral research were my friends. I loved how in academia, I get to discuss science with friends and get to meet so many of them during various conferences.
🌍 What do you enjoy doing outside your research? – I love horse riding. I have done so since I was 8 years old and even now I am with my horse each week. For me, it is the perfect activity to help me relax. As I concentrate on riding and am in the outdoors, it allows me take my mind off all the stressful things that may be going on. I always feel relaxed afterwards and am happy to get back to life and work.
🌍 Did you experience a “Eureka” moment when you felt you had made it in science or as a researcher? – In the earlier parts of my scientific life, I had dabbled working with multiple aspects within astrophysics and felt unsure of what my future research could look like. There was also an ongoing worry of whether I would get a job. But during my postdoctoral research, we started the SILCC collaboration. This collaboration was so cool and innovative, and it got a lot of attention from varied fields. I remember thinking that my research was in the right direction and that people were indeed interested. It also led me to believe that my skills were valuable and even if I didn’t end up in academia, job possibilities were endless.
🌍 What have you struggled with during your scientific career? – I am always excited about new ideas and can sometimes over-share before the right moment. I have learnt how important it is to work on these ideas and do solid research before sharing them. In this era of open access, good research can reach a far larger audience and can make a really big impact. So, it is important to be patient with new ideas and sharing the work at the right time always pays off in the longer run.
🌍 What’s the favourite part of your week currently? – Mondays! I know it sounds crazy but I love how Mondays bring in infinite possibilities. There are so many exciting things ahead in the week. I have worked almost 6-7 days per week and I don’t feel work is something I have to force myself to do. I always feel super privileged to work on something I love with people I love working with as we try to understand the vast expanses of our universe.
🌍 What will you say to the young females in Physics and academia at the moment? What has been your experience? – When I was a young female in physics, I would sometimes feel demotivated if someone was too critical of my work. I would think they were assuming I was not capable of something. However, I have since realized that it is crucial to be critical in science. Science needs criticism! I have continued to work hard and that gives me the power to back my research but also importantly, gives me the courage if something is not appropriate. One must be vocal if any inappropriate comments are said not based on your research. Pointing these out could be crucial in breaking any stereotypical biases. I truly believe in the role of open and honest conversations with your colleagues to establish such boundaries. I know raising such concerns out loud can be tricky and that’s when self-confidence is crucial. Cologne has been wonderful in that regards as I work with such open-minded people and great scientists who are all working towards improving and excelling in science.
🌍 What excites you about scientific research over the next 5 years? – I am looking forward to see what machine learning (ML) can do for us. I’m a little skeptical about how much the impact could be but I am keeping an open mind. I’m really excited to work with experts in the Machine Learning field in the coming years. Of course, I am also looking forward to elaborating which stellar feedback processes are most important or how the interstellar medium, which is the reservoir for star formation, develops at lower metallicity, so in dwarf galaxies or in the early Universe. Coupling various effects like different heating processes, propagation of cosmic rays etc. is very novel and exciting. There are also many challenging projects from a hardware point of view and the opportunity to tackle these challenging parts is also exhilarating.