“My enthusiasm for astronomy started to develop when I was still a child. I would stare at the night sky, a rotating star chart in my hand and watch the moon through a small telescope. This fascination has accompanied me throughout my childhood. I knew early on that I wanted to study Astronomy and started my degree programme full of motivation right after finishing high school.
However, I started to doubt my decision after the first semesters. To understand and explore the phenomena of outer space, you need a basic understanding of mathematics and physics, which you acquire right at the start of the degree programme. I was increasingly disappointed when I found out there was little actual astronomical research in the curriculum. By the end of my bachelor’s programme, I was unsure if I wanted to continue studying. Eventually I enrolled in the master’s programme – maybe just because it was fairly easy and I only had to send one single e-mail. Later on, this rather unconscious decision would turn out to be the best I could have taken.
My degree programme has changed drastically when I started working on my master’s project. My project allows me to immerse myself in the world of Big Data analysis. I work with observation data gathered by the Gaia spacecraft, which provides high precision positional measurements for billions of stars in our home galaxy, the Milky Way. In my everyday work, I perform calculations, program and visualise data, try to understand relations and interpret the findings correctly. I am closely involved in current research, had the chance to contribute to publications and have just published my first own publication. Additionally, I will present my research findings to astronomers from all over Europe at an ESA conference before I graduate. In retrospect, I now realise how important good basic knowledge is for research.
I enjoy my work very much and would like to continue my research in a doctoral programme at the University. Because I cannot take it for granted that this will come true, I try to stay flexible and have an open mind about my future. I am confident that I will also be able to gain a foothold in other disciplines with the knowledge I have acquired. But every time I sit at the research telescope with colleagues and look into the starry night sky, I am captured anew with this endless fascination, and I know that I just love being an astronomer.”
Verena Fürnkranz is studying Astronomy at the University of Vienna.