My Experience of Moving to a PhD

My name is Cristina and I am a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Earth Observation Science (EOS) group, in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester. But my career in research has only just started – in fact, this is my first postdoc. I can say that my career has had some interesting turns, so I’m writing this in the hope that my experience helps inspire others.

Since I was little I always knew I wanted to do science, but I wasn’t sure what that might be until the very last months of school. In the end, I decided to study Telecommunications Engineering, and I did so at undergraduate and master’s level in Spain, my home country. I studied a wide range of subjects such as electronics and programming, and really enjoyed it!

After University, I was keen to get a job in the space industry, however, the recession in Spain made it very difficult and I ended up taking a job as a Junior Software Test Engineer working on an air traffic management system. Although it wasn’t the ideal job for me, it was a key stepping stone that helped me get my next job as a Graduate Software Engineer in Samsung Cambridge Solution Centre in the UK.

I worked in the software industry for a total of three years, until my job was made redundant. I immediately saw this as a fantastic opportunity to do something more meaningful and fulfilling, so I decided to invest my redundancy money in studying an MSc in Space Exploration at the University of Leicester. I was hoping to get the necessary skills to get on to the career in space science I wanted so much, and it certainly was an amazing experience.

Soon after starting my MSc course I had to decide once more what to do with my life afterwards. I realised that what I really wanted was to do research. I had experienced industry jobs and I just did not find them fulfilling enough. I had always been very curious, loved studying and learning new things, and enjoyed solving problems, so I felt research was the right path for me. Then I figured that a PhD was the next necessary step towards my goal, so I looked for opportunities. To begin with I wanted to do a PhD in planetary science, but I was also aware that I didn’t have a solid enough background on the subject. In the end, I was very fortunate to get a CENTA PhD studentship in the Earth Observation Science group, where I am currently a PDRA, studying a new instrument concept to monitor air quality from space.

One thing I have learned from my experience over the years is that sometimes we just need to take the opportunities as they come, forget about pre-conceptions of what we think we like and focus on what we are good at and what is available. It has certainly worked for me! My PhD has been a fascinating journey and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the challenges. I have found my place in research, it is the career that feels right for me and I will continue in that direction for now. However, life is complicated and you never know where it will take you. I believe it is important to keep an open mind and take opportunities as they come.

Cristina Ruiz Villena is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Earth Observation Science (EOS) group, in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester.

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Martin Coffey

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Postgraduate Career Development Adviser, Doctoral College Team.

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