Dr Anne’s Log: The Debriefing (Stardate 2017.48)

There is a lot of mystery and misconceptions on what the day-to-day job of ‘Astrophysicist’ is like. Some think we are a bunch of old Einstein-looking guys who sit around the blackboard all day discussing the Universe. Others (such as my estate agent, despite repeatedly being told otherwise) are convinced we are some kind of vampire-type creatures who sleep all day and come out to work only after dark. The majority of people I meet however, are not quite sure what we do – infact after the usual stunned silence I get when answering their question ‘what do you do for a living?’, comes the follow up ‘Wow, ok, so what does an Astrophysicist do?’.

Well we do a lot of different things!

On a normal daily basis, you will probably find us in our offices (during daylight hours) at a computer either doing cutting edge science research, writing about it, reading about someone else’s, coding, meetings, answering emails and/or teaching students. On a regular (but not daily) basis you will find us doing public talks and events. And a couple of times a year we jet-set to locations worldwide.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly! It comes as a surprise to many, but your typical astrophysicist is a seasoned traveller. Mostly, this is for conferences and workshops such as the one StarFormMapper held in Spain last week. You would be forgiven for assuming we have these worldwide for the sake of it – but actually its because there are so few of us (~10,000 worldwide, compared to e.g. ~20,000 ambulance workers in the UK alone) and we are scattered across the continents, so if we want to get together to discuss topics face-to-face travel is involved!

And so last week StarFormMapper hosted a workshop called “ Star Cluster Formation: Mapping the first few Myrs ” to discuss (you guessed it) the formation of star clusters with about 30 scientists. There were so many interesting talks from observers and theoreticians alike, with stimulating discussion and a fascinating public talk on gravitational waves. These sort of events are essential in our line of work – emails and Skype really cannot compare to face-to-face meetings where everyone is working towards a common goal, but looking at and approaching it in infinite different ways and perspectives, perhaps even in ways you’d never dreamt of…so refreshing! Not to mention useful – you can quite easily go into these discussion with a problem you have been wrestling with for sometime, and come out with a solution. As such, StarFormMapper is planning annual workshops, with the next one in Summer 2018 in France, and the UK in 2019.

Want to check out what we discussed at our workshop? We’ve dedicated a whole section of the website to it here: http://sfm.leeds.ac.uk/madrid-workshop-2017/about/