Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

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A Summary of the SWIMMR Kick-Off Meeting

The kick-off event for the Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Study (one of the Wave 2 programmes of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund) took place in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday November 26th. Seventy-five people attended the event, representing a range of academic institutions, as well as representatives from industry, government and public sector research establishments such as the UK Met Office. 

The morning session of the meeting consisted of five presentations, introducing the programme and its relevance to government, the Research Councils and the Met Office, as well as describing details of the potential calls. The presentations were as follows:

  •  Prof John Loughhead (Chief Scientific Advisor to BEIS) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Programme (a governmental perspective). The slides from Prof John Loughhead's talk are available here.
  • Prof Chris Mutlow (Director of STFC RAL Space) - SWIMMR: Project funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund (a perspective from STFC).  The slides from Prof Chris Mutlow's talk are available here.
  • Jacky Wood (Head of Business Partnerships at NERC) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) - A NERC perspective.  The slides from Jacky Wood's talk are available here.
  • Dr. Ian McCrea (Senior Programme Manager for SWIMMR) -  SWIMMR: Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk: A wave 2 programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.  The slides from Dr Ian McCrea's talk are available here.
  • Mark Gibbs (Head of Space Weather at the UK Met Office) - SWIMMR (Met Office perspective and detailed description of the calls.  The slides from Mark Gibb's talk are available here.

During the lunch break, the Announcement of Opportunity for the five NERC SWIMMR calls was issued on the NERC web site.  The afternoon therefore began with a brief introduction by Jacky Wood to the NERC Announcement of Opportunity, and the particular terms and conditions which it contained.

The remainder of the afternoon session was spent in a Question and Answer session in which attendees were able to ask questions to the speakers about the nature of the programme and the potential timing of future calls, and finally to an informal discussion session, in which participants gathered into groups to discuss the opportunities for funding which had been outlined. 

2019 RAS Council elections

As you may have seen, the nominations for RAS Council are currently open with a deadline of 29 November. MIST falls under the “G” (Geophysics) category and there are up to 3 councillor positions and one vice-president position available. MIST Council strongly encourages interested members of the MIST community to consider standing for election.
Clare Watt (University of Reading) has kindly volunteered to be a point of contact for the community for those who may wish to talk more about being on council and what it involves. Clare is a councillor on RAS Council, with her term due to complete in 2020, and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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.

Applying for jobs as a recovering academic

by Stephen Browett

Last year I finished my PhD from the University of Southampton and I am now working as a Technical Analyst for a tech start-up in my hometown of Birmingham. This blog post describes a very honest account of how I tackled the hardest problem I faced after finishing my PhD: working out what I wanted to do next. I hope that this helps people who are unsure about moving into industry and need advice on how to go about making decisions on their future career.

A photo from my graduation!

Full disclaimer: at the time that I was walking out of the door at Southampton I had no industry experience of any kind, I did not have any idea what I wanted to do and I did not have any connections with anyone in industry who could offer me a job; all I had was a piece of paper saying I had a PhD.


#PhDone! What next?

Deciding to leave academia was a hard decision to make, especially when completing a PhD provides an incredible sense of accomplishment. I was very tempted to stay in academia because of that feeling and, I am sure, some of those who are undecided about what they want to do following a PhD stay in academia because of it; however, for me it was not enough and I decided to “sell out” (as some of my friends lovingly put it) and get a “real job” (as I lovingly put it to some of my friends) in industry.

How I figured it out

Deciding to move into industry immediately presented the most difficult question: “what do I want to do now?” In order to answer this question I took a pragmatic approach which started by listing all of the parts of doing a PhD that I had enjoyed. For me, this list comprised of: designing and implementing original analyses; coding in Python; working as part of a team and presenting results. This list gave me some criteria to check every job advert against so that I could make a decision as to whether or not I felt capable of doing that job (beware imposter syndrome at this point, you can do more than you think!).

A list of criteria for a job is all well and good but is useless unless that job also motivates you; a job needs that special something that takes it from “I could do that” to “I want to do that”. For example, I have spoken to people who want to feel like they are making an impact at a company; some people want to feel like they are changing the world; and others want good progression opportunities. All of these are perfectly legitimate requirements and each person will have different priorities. I wanted to be able to dictate the direction of my own work. This is something we get to do a lot during our PhDs and I felt that I needed that creative outlet that comes with self-autonomy. Personally, I had several interviews where I came out at the end thinking “that place is really boring!” which, in the end, meant that I decided to withdraw from the application processes; remember that a company should also be trying to impress you during an interview, if they are not trying hard enough then are they not that interested?

The combination of my list of criteria for a job as well as my own priorities and interests had made me decide that I wanted to work in the tech sector but which job I wanted specifically was still very much undecided. In the Venn diagram of all the jobs that exist, I knew I was looking for the intersection of the set of jobs that I wanted to do and the set of jobs that I was qualified to do. Having decided on what jobs I wanted to do, I then needed to turn my attention to defining the set of jobs that I was qualified to do. In order to tell what job you are qualified to do when you have no experience is not an easy task (especially as it requires detailed self-analysis) so you have to analyse all of the work you have ever done and come up with a list of your skills (with some painfully contrived examples of when you used those skills) to put on a ‘skills based’ CV. The kind of skills I decided I had included coding (Python), problem solving (PhD, duh!) oral and written communication skills and the ability to teach myself new skills (this is always a good one). Putting this list together made me realise what doing a PhD had made me learn and that those days scratching my head over a problem, which felt like wasted days at the time (as is the pressure of doing a PhD), were actually days where I was adding another string to my bow which I can now show to potential employers. This kind of introspective analysis, however, does not come very easily to me and so this is when a visit to the university’s careers advice centre really helped out. These career advice centres are really useful places and after only a couple of meetings (only one of which was actually scheduled with them) at the centre on Southampton’s Highfield campus I had a CV and covering letter that I was very proud of and, after discussions around my skill set with a careers advisor, I had decided I wanted to be a data scientist or data analyst.

Getting that dream job!

Applying for jobs made me realise another gift from the PhD in that it opened doors. I was being contacted about jobs I had not applied for (some were offering salaries 5 times what I was getting from my PhD stipend). Recruiters pay to have access to CVs that people post onto job board sites and share the good ones with their colleagues and so I was getting contacted about all kinds of jobs and the recruiters could not do enough to try and find me a job I wanted (albeit so that they would get paid by the company who hires me but there is still a compliment in there) all because I had ‘Dr’ in my title. It was not long before I was contacted about a job at a tech start-up company called Covatic. They were looking to establish a research and development team in Birmingham and so were looking for highly educated/ well experienced people to set it up. I was asked if I would be interested in applying for a Technical Analyst role which comprised of various research and data science projects that I would be able to specify in conjunction with the data scientist and Chief Technical Officer, I told them I was very interested. I kind of flunked the phone interview, this was the first job I had found which I was really interested in and I let the pressure get to me but, fortunately, they had seen something in me because they invited me in for a face-to-face interview. I was determined not to fail this one as well so I took every bit of information I could from the telephone interview and pored over anything that looked relevant in my PhD notes. As a result the physical interview went much better and ended up with me and the data scientist riffing about ideas for potential data projects and what technical challenges we would have to overcome. Both of us found this very exciting and I think it is what ultimately led to a job offer which I eagerly accepted.

At the time of writing this article I have been working at Covatic for nearly a year but, due to the timing of my viva, I have only graduated a few weeks ago. Going back to university after time away from it afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon my decision to leave and the personal progress that I have made since leaving. I feel that whilst I miss the university lifestyle, I have had so much more opportunity to improve my technical abilities in industry and, as a result, I have become much more confident in myself and my abilities. So, one year after starting my job and having just hired a junior with whom I will start up my own team within the company, I have no doubt that moving into industry was the best thing for me to do.

The Covatic Team!

Further reading:

  • Good websites to search for jobs:

https://www.indeed.co.uk (covers a wide range of industries)

https://www.cwjobs.co.uk (tech specific)

https://stackoverflow.com/jobs (tech specific)

If you have any questions about finding your career path post-PhD then you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..