Livin' It categories: Outer Space
Astronomer, European Southern Observatory
What is a typical day like at your job? First, I check my emails to see if anything urgent needs to be done. Then, I usually work on one of several projects to improve the quality of the observational data that ESO delivers to its users. This work is mostly done at a computer, checking data and experimenting with different parameters to process and calibrate the data. It also requires regular checks of the published literature and frequent discussions with colleagues, who are from many different countries.
What has surprised you about your career? Is it like you imagined it would be? When I started my diploma thesis in physics, I thought that I wanted to work in theoretical physics. My first astronomical-observing run and my working with observations, however, proved to be so fascinating that I became an observational astronomer and never regretted it. I was also afraid about the fact that one usually got only fixed-term contracts, resulting in the necessity to move every few years. Looking back, I must say I enjoyed working in different places, but I was also lucky to find a husband to accept a long-distance marriage for ten years.
What are your favorite aspects of your job? Developing a theory to explain something, determining which observations are needed, taking them and finding out that you were right. It is an incredible feeling!
What career did you imagine yourself in as a young girl? I wanted to be an astronomer since I was about 13. I do not remember what I wanted before.
Coffee shop drink of choice? Mixture of hot chocolate and espresso, preferably with whipped cream.
Who are YOUR role models? Allen Sweigart, a US American colleague who is a great scientist, has always been ready to answer questions I have had, and has been very supportive for the past 18 years (since we’ve known each other). There were no female German astronomers that would have been of interest as role models. Meg Urry is another astronomer, who has influenced me very positively.
Bio: Sabine is a scientist at the European Southern Observatory in Munich, Germany. She received a diploma in physics and a PhD in astronomy from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn, and her habilitation in astronomy from Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. To be an astronomer like her, “You need a strong background in physics and should not be afraid of or dislike mathematics. Beyond that, curiosity and tenacity are important qualities to work in astronomical research (or most likely any other research).” Some of the most difficult challenges of her work are continuing to work on problems even when all obvious solutions have failed. This can be tedious and frustrating, but necessary. Sabine’s work also brings her to live in different places, work with people from different countries, and experience what differences and commonalities different cultures have. According to Sabine, “We come from different cultures and backgrounds, but the drive to do astronomical research brings us into contact with each other.” She works with mostly astronomers and software engineers, but sometimes also other engineers. Outside of work, Sabine likes to read, work in the garden, and go to museums.