The Astronomy Summer Research Programme, with Callum Donnan

Where did you do your internship and how long for?

I took part in the Institute of Astronomy Summer Research Programme at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge which lasted for 8 weeks.

What did you do?

I developed a new technique of measuring the spectroscopic redshift of the most distant galaxies. The overall goal of this research is to understand galaxies more precisely during this era and to work towards observing the very first galaxies that existed in the universe. With this new technique I was able to measure the spectroscopic redshift of a galaxy for which we previously could not, at a redshift corresponding to 500 million years after the big bang – one of the furthest astronomical objects ever observed.

What was it like?

Due to the Covid situation, this internship was done remotely. This meant I had two Zoom calls a week with my supervisor where we discussed my progress on the project. However, this did not limit my enjoyment of the experience and I was still able to get a lot out of the project. Also, there was the opportunity to attend virtual seminars in the department as well as a weekly zoom call with the other summer students. This was a great opportunity to conduct exciting research on a topic I am interested in as well as giving me lots of new research skills.

Where did you find out about the internship?

I first found out about the internship from an email that the head of school sent to all honour’s students. As I have an interest in pursuing a career in Astrophysics research I decided to apply.

Did you have any funding and if so, how did you find out about it?

All the funding was internal with the University of Cambridge paying a small stipend for the work.

Do you have any tips regarding the recruitment process?

I would recommend emphasising your passion and relevant experience for astrophysics research. One thing to bear in mind is that these programmes can be quite competitive to get into, so it is good to apply for many places to increase your chances. The process of applying involved submitting a CV, a transcript of your grades and a description of your interest in the projects and in astronomical research. You also need an academic reference letter for the application (two for some other programmes). For this I recommend asking someone in the department who knows you well. For Cambridge there was no interview, but some other astronomy summer programmes do have an interview at the final stage. For interviews I would recommend trying to emphasise your interest and passion for the project and also making sure to ask them questions as well.

What should people who will do something similar expect?

A research-based internship will usually consist of the opportunity to conduct some new, original research under the supervision of an academic at the host institution. This gives you the chance to explore something no-one has done before and gives you lots of new skills. Some examples of these skills are coding (for me mainly in python), reading scientific papers, writing scientific reports and presenting your work to a research group.

What will you personally take into the future from this experience?

This internship gave me lots of experience in astrophysics research and has confirmed that I want to do a PhD after I graduate. It has also sparked my interest specifically, in research into the first galaxies in the high redshift universe.

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