Life and Work at MSSL – Questions answered by our Astrophysics PhD Students

MSSL at night
MSSL at night

If you’re considering applying for a PhD at MSSL and want to know more about what it’s really like, we’ve asked a couple of our new students about how they are finding life as a research student here at the lab. Luke and Monica answer your questions:

Student Profiles


From: Wellington, New Zealand; Studied: Undergraduate degree in Physics and Mathematics, Masters degree in Condensed Matter Physics, both at the Victoria University of Wellington; Funding: UCL Graduate Research Scholarship, UCL Overseas Research Scholarship, and the William Georgetti Scholarship (New Zealand); Project: Imaging with next generation radio telescopes; Supervisor: Dr Jason McEwen


From: Mexico City, Mexico; Studied: Undergraduate degree in Physics at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM); Funding: CONACyT (Mexican Government); Project: Understanding the role of dust in star forming galaxies through NUV and Optical Photometry; Supervisor: Dr Ignacio Ferreras

What three words would you use to describe your MSSL experience so far…?

Luke: “Supported, Independent, Fun”

Monica: “Happy, friendly, supportive”

What’s it like to live & work in rural Surrey (“the middle of nowhere…”)?

Luke: “Since I am living in Ariel House (on site), I spend a lot of time in “the middle of nowhere”. However, it is still possible to get into London, but it will take up most of the day. Also, it helps if you own a car. However, the best part of living in Ariel house is that you are around people who are interested in the astronomy and space science, and the commute to work is ~ 30 seconds (you can save a lot of money in travelling to work). Also, there is a pool in the back yard. Other than that, I also get the chance to cycle around surrey and walk through the forrest. Moving from the other side of the earth (New Zealand) has also been made amazingly easy. Starting a PhD at MSSL is probably one of the easiest ways to move to the UK, because you are very supported when you arrive.

MSSL has a good working environment. In particular, the astro group has astrophysics and cosmology journal clubs that alternate weekly. The offices are full of friendly helpful people. Also, it is nice to be working in a place full of experts in your field of interest, meaning you can ask experts directly when you want an answer to a question.”

Monica: “I think one great aspect of working in rural Surrey is the great scenery. The view from the lab is really breath-taking and it is a nice change from the city. I think this makes it easier to concentrate and work more effectively. Despite the fact that the lab is a litte bit isolated, if you have a car it is not a long commute from the nearby towns.”

What surprised you when you arrived MSSL?

Luke: “I was surprised at how far it is from the nearest towns and villages when you don’t have a car. If you have a car, this is not a problem. It takes about 25 minutes to drive to Guildford, the nearest town. About 10 minutes to drive to Cranleigh, the largest village. However, it is easy to get a ride.

It is surprising to end up working in an old 19th century mansion, with wooden paneling everywhere. Also, there are quite a lot of days with mist covering surrey, I have never seen anything else like it.

I was also surprised about how easy it was to move across the world, I think this was because of the support I was given when moving here.”

Monica: “There’s a great community spirit: PhD students, staff and postdocs make you feel like you are among friends. If you have any issues, the administrative and academic staff (in particular the postgraduate tutor) are very aware of the student’s needs. When I arrived to the astro group, they were specially supportive and friendly.”

Anything else you want to add?

Luke: “MSSL has a great social club that organises events regularly, such as quiz nights. There is also a canteen where you can buy food, with new options each day. The food is quite good.”

Monica: “Having a coffee machine in the office is a big plus! :)”

More comments from last years’ 1st year students can also be found here.

See also: PhD opportunities at MSSL, 2016.


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