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#STEMStories: Laila, PhD Student in Astrophysics, Germany

#STEMStories: Laila, PhD Student in Astrophysics, Germany

1. Introduce yourself, who are you, what do you do?

Hi, I am Laila Linke. I am a PhD student in astrophysics at the University of Bonn. My research interest lies in cosmology, which is the science of the origin and evolution of the Universe and its main components, such as the mysterious dark matter. I analyze data from gravitational lensing - a process by which dark matter changes the images of galaxies and from this hope to learn more about what dark matter really is and how it interacts with usual matter.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I have always been fascinated by physics and astronomy since I was little - I loved going to the planetarium, watched TV documentaries and conducted some “experiments” at home (although my parents were less than thrilled about some of them :) ). So, I really wanted to study a STEM subject. In high school, I had a wonderful physics teacher, who encouraged me to go for it. I studied physics at Heidelberg University and quickly specialized in astronomy. After finishing my master degree, it was clear to me, that I want to continue in astronomy research, so I applied for a PhD and ended up with a wonderful project in Bonn.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

There are two aspects I really like about my job. The first is thinking about different approaches to solve a problem. Maybe my software code does not work the way it should. Maybe my calculations do not give the result they should. Maybe the data is not quite as good as it should be. Trying to resolve these problems is fun because you get to be creative. You can try out all your ideas, even if at first they might appear stupid. And, having solved a problem is immensely gratifying.

The other aspect of my job I like is telling other people about science, either by teaching students or with outreach activities to the general public. I love talking about astronomy, so sharing my passion and actually getting paid for it is amazing :).

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

Unfortunately, stress is a really big problem for a lot of graduate students. Many of us are so fascinated by our work, that we notice too late, that we work too hard and take too little breaks. For me, the most important rule to manage my stress is to keep to a productive work schedule: Stick to “usual” business hours (e.g., 9 am to 6 pm), no work on the weekend, and enough time for yoga, healthy eating and self-care. When deadlines come up, it is sometimes hard to stick to these goals, but I aspire to them anyway.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

There are a lot of important female researchers in astronomy and physics whose work went unnoticed, or who did not receive as much attention as they should have (Lise Meitner, Vera Rubin, Henrietta Swan Levitt and many more). When I was younger I considered them to be my role models. Today, however, I think having a role model might set you back. You will never follow exactly their path, and comparing yourself to a pioneer in your field might cause feelings of inferiority or self-doubt. Instead, I think it is better to think of the goals you want to achieve for yourself. Aspire to be the best version of yourself, this should be your role model. 

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

Don’t worry! There are many, many opportunities in life, and you will find your way!

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Find your passion! STEM is a big field, and each science has its own niches. Look for the parts that interest you the most, not necessarily those that are most “useful for the job market”. Ask yourself, are you more of a theorist, or do you want to work in a lab? Do you want to work on your own or in a big collaboration? And then look for opportunities fitting your answers.
  2. Not everyone in STEM is the nerdy stereotype you see on TV! People in STEM are quite diverse. Yes, unfortunately, there are still many more men than women working in STEM, but not everyone is a shy, antisocial nerd. So, don’t be discouraged, thinking you “won’t fit in”
  3. Connect with people! It is really important, in particular during your studies, to find friends and colleagues you can work with. A “support network” will help you during tough times, and also when preparing for lectures, exams, or finding job opportunities later.

8. How do you measure your success?

For me, success is determined by reaching the goals I set myself. This can be related to my work (publishing a paper, giving a good talk in my group seminar, finishing a project) or personal. However, it is important to define realistic goals and to not be too upset, when a deadline rushes by, or a goal is just not met.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

You can check out my research gate page: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Laila_Linke or my homepage: https://lmlinke.wordpress.com/. I also gave a talk at Astronomy On Tap Bonn, although it is in German only: https://youtu.be/bWoTh6z1RYg

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

My twitter handle is @astro_laila! I would be very happy to talk to you!