Happily reaching the top

Happily reaching the top

I am very proud to be one of the two girls working for Caroline Soubiran’s scientific legacy. And I am glad that the other girl is Laia Casamiquela, who I met when she came as a student to the first workshop I organised in stellar spectroscopy.

Applying for jobs is one of these hard aspects of academia. At the end of my PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), in Garching, I applied to several positions and got rejected over and over. It was hard, I was very demotivated and did not know what to do after my PhD. Somehow I wanted to keep doing astronomy, my experience as a student at MPA had not been enough for me to really assess if science was or not something I could do for my life. It wasn’t clear to me at the time what was my purpose in academia and how could I navigate in life with my skills, and I really wanted to figure that out! I had submitted my thesis, but still had nothing to do afterwards. My time in Garching was coming to an end, and I had no idea where I was going to live in few months. I had a partner and a child, and none of us really knew about our future. 

Then I got an offer from Caroline to work with her in Bordeaux in a project related to Gaia.  I didn’t speak any French, I had no connection to France nor to Gaia. But Caroline seemed nice, and Gaia was an intriguing space mission that was about to be launched at that time. My partner loved the idea to live in France, so I accepted. Let’s discover France and astronomy there! 

In France my life as a professional scientist started. I was a postdoc that could discuss and exchange many science ideas with Caroline. That was exciting and motivating. I gained confidence of my ideas, and Caroline involved me in many important projects to generate reference stars for Gaia. She had a network of very friendly and fun collaborators, and I started really enjoying to collaborate, to lead projects, and to design my own scientific path. I chose the Gaia Benchmark Stars project to drive me forward. 

It was only two years we lived in Bordeaux. It was short, but enough to impact my life in so many ways. It is amazing what a good mentor and a good project can do. In Bordeaux I faced several personal challenges: in addition to adapting to a new culture and learn a new language, I had a second child, I lost my father and almost lost my father-in-law. Thus, my postdoc was constantly interrupted, which wasn’t easy. I acknowledged that one of my skills is resilience, because I kept working on the Gaia benchmark stars project despite everything. I also learnt that another of my skills is trust, because I constantly had to delegate part of the work to others due to the interruptions.  I believe these skills have brought me far. 

The project has kept evolving and with it a very strong collaboration has emerged. I find it inspiring what can be achieved when analysing few well-known stars for which we have very high quality data. We’ve provided one of the best reference samples for the community, and are able to seduce many young spectroscopists to embrace with us in keep learning about stellar atmospheres with our spectral data. During the past weeks we had the pleasure to meet again thanks to ANID and complementary funding from ESO in Santiago and could set new milestones for this important project. 

But most crucially, I realised that what really motivates me to give my best to the Gaia benchmark stars is the opportunity to stay connected to my dear “ex-boss” and mentor, Caroline. I am so energised for the magic moments we had in Santiago with the Bordeaux team during the past days.  The extensive to-do list for the Gaia Benchmark stars is long, and that is exactly what I want, to keep doing science!