Postgraduate profile: Physics PhD

Postgraduate profile of a physics PhD student
'I'm in the second year of my PhD at the Institute for Astronomy, Edinburgh University, working on ‘The Evolution of Radio Galaxies'.

Name: Mairi Brookes
University: Edinburgh University
Course studied: Physics PhD

A career in the stars

It all started when my dad got a telescope! We used to go out in the garden and gaze at the stars. But it only really clicked that I could make a career of astronomy when I began studying physics at school. From there, I chose the astronomy options in my degree and then did my master's dissertation in astronomy as well. I got so into it that I managed to work on some small research projects during my summer holidays too. There's more and more scope for undergrads to do this kind of thing – I just emailed St Andrews and Glasgow Universities on spec and asked!

A galaxy of discoveries

I'm studying extra-galactic radio sources, collecting samples and cross-referencing with optical imaging, to identify host galaxies. Once we've identified them, we can use the information to find out more about them. So you could say it's cutting edge! Day to day you don't necessarily make big discoveries – it's more of a continual progression, but every so often you get very excited by a piece of data.

Motivational travelling

I've been to the Very Large Telescope in Chile and to Hawaii to collect observational data. Going to conferences is fabulous too - it motivates you hugely to see the big picture and put your work in context. There's been a lot of research recently on central black holes in galaxies, which is all stuff that's well measured, but not necessarily well understood. The results that I collect could cast valuable light on this phenomenon, which is a fantastic feeling!