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.

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..