One of the challenges of being a PhD student in the UK is the experience of the transfer viva

But, what is a transfer viva? Is an oral exam where the student has to answer questions about the work they have been doing for 10 months since the beginning of the PhD. This represents an important step in this journey because the outcome of this determines whether you can continue or not in the program. I am very happy to say that I passed my transfer viva and officially I am a 2nd  year PhD student at the University of Leeds.

Moreover, before the end of  last year, I attended two interesting workshops that took place in ESAC, Spain.  One was the Third ASTERICS School, the focus for this was The Virtual Observatory (VO). In this, I learned about how to use different astrophysics tools, such as Topcat, Aladin, VOSA, etc.; and apply the knowledge in a scientific case. The ESAC DATA ANALYSIS & STATISTICS workshop was the second one I attended, where I learned about fundamental topics in statistics and data analysis from a group of experts in the field.

Finally, I helped my English advisor to create a short video presentation about the need for writing skills when doing research. This will be used in the near future as material for a course given by the Language centre of the University of Leeds. Also, I had the opportunity to show physics demos to groups of kids and the general public in the IOP outreach event, Stargazing Live 2018.

Every day is a new experience in the life of a PhD student.

A new year begins

A new year of ideas and expectatives begins while we are still gathering the results produced at the end of 2017. Rene Oudmaijer, my PhD main supervisor, came to visit ESAC at the end of December what resulted in a few days of intense hands-on work. Together we finished outlining the first segment of the project and planned for the future. Now the next milestone is Gaia Data Release 2 (DR2), planned for the second half of April, when we will face the new technical difficulties arising from a new catalogue. Therefore, the more we can do beforehand the better.

Shortly before Rene’s visit I attended, together with Alice, the ESAC Data Analysis and Statistics Workshop. We learnt a lot about Bayesian Statistics, Machine Learning and Python programming in statistics. The idea is to implement the new knowledge to the project as soon as possible, as it will be of the utmost importance in order to describe the results that will be obtained with DR2.

It is quite important to have an impact on the community. Hence, this January I presented the work I did during my first year of PhD at the Journal Club of the Astrobiology Center in Madrid. We plan to go to the Olympian Symposium in Greece at the end of May and, once in the deep Spanish summer, we will go to the national Spanish astronomy meeting in Salamanca.

Nonetheless, the event that made me happier was the public talk I gave about star formation at the Isabel the España college residence. It was heart-warming to see the reaction of the general public and the interest aroused.

Beginning of my secondment

Many things have happened since my last blog entry. We went to the Francesco’s Legacy, Star Formation in Space and Time conference in Florence, where both Alice and myself presented a poster and Rene gave a talk. The conference itself was very instructive and we had a great time in Florence.

Short after that, I left Leeds to start my secondment in Madrid. It was sad to leave Leeds after 10 months working there, say goodbye to my peers and colleagues and move to another town. However, the people at the ISDEFE & European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) welcomed me very nicely and I am extremely pleased in my new office. Nonetheless, it was not so long until I had to go back to the UK, at the beginning of July we went to the National Astronomy Meeting in Hull and by the end of the month I had to go back to Leeds University for my first year viva, which I successfully passed.

After summer holidays, we had the chance to know Liverpool as the Northern Star Formation meeting was hold there. The meeting was very cosy and enjoyed by all the assistants, so we agreed it will be repeated next year in Manchester.

That was not the last trip, the first week of October we went to observe to the William Herschel Telescope at La Palma. It was a fantastic experience; we learnt and enjoyed a lot in the three nights we stayed on top of the mountain. I am really looking forward to go observing again soon. It is easy to forget that stars are really above us to be observed after so many days looking at numbers on the screen.

Between trips and trips I keep working in my new office in Madrid, learning the most out of the new environment of astronomers, engineers and archive people. I truly think I am going to have a productive and enjoyable time in this secondment in Madrid.


A part of being a PhD student is to be able to show your work to the research community. That is why every year we have the opportunity to attend different congresses, conferences, workshops, etc. at home and around the world.

At the beginning of my PhD I had the chance to show my work at an international conference in Florence, Italy called: “Francesco’s Legacy –Star Formation in Space and Time”, from the 5-9 June 2017. This was a week where researchers from all over the word gave talks about many different aspects of astronomy and paid homage to Francesco Palla. I presented a poster about the research I have been developing in the 6 months in Leeds. This obtained very positive comments from the researchers, whose work I have been using. I also had the opportunity to attend a workshop in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain called: “Star Form Mapper Workshop. Star Cluster Formation: Mapping the first few Myrs”, from the 14- 15 June 2017. In these two days, I was able to learn about the new perspectives of the theoretical and observational views of clusters thanks to the talks by the experts. In addition, I attended “North Star Formation meeting” in Liverpool”, from the 7-8 September 2017. This was a two day meeting with a big group of researchers and PhD students in the north of the UK. This gave the opportunity to all the attendants to know the work of our neighbours.

In general, this was a very good experience to show my work to the research community and receive good comments about the STARRY project. I am looking forward to the next trip.

Nice Symposium: Astrometry and Astrophysics in the Gaia sky

This last month, Rene Oudmaijer and myself attended the IAU Symposium 330, Astrometry and Astrophysics in the Gaia sky in Nice (24-28th April). They were five days of talks from many different fields in astronomy with the Gaia project in common. It was very useful to see how the Gaia DR1 data can be used in such a variety of ways, and gave us many ideas to implement in our project. It was also very useful for getting prepared for Gaia DR2 (to be released by April 2018), as many people presented their ambitions for the future. As a general thought, it was great to see the enthusiasm Gaia is bringing to the community and the high level expectations many research groups have for future publications thanks to the new era in astrometry.

On our side, we presented a poster with the current state of our research. The poster was displayed during the whole congress and there was a special one hour long poster session in which I had the chance of explaining our work to the people interested. It was the first public presentation of the project to the community and I have to say I am very happy about the reception it had. The poster will be shown again in the Florence congress “Francesco’s Legacy – Star Formation in Space and Time” at the beginning of June and also will appear in the conference proceedings to be published about six months after the end of it.

The symposium itself was great, very well organised and with plenty of amenities, we even had the opportunity to go the the observatory of Nice, that opened in 1887 and at some point was the highest in the world (325m over the sea level). I had the chance to talk to many other researchers from my field and from other fields, explain my project and ideas and listen to theirs. Summarizing, I think it was a very productive congress, definitely was worth to go and it was a great experience that will have a very positive impact in the STARRY project. I am really looking forward to the next congress.

University of Leeds

The last couple of months have been full of work that never ends… but it is supposed to be like this. Be a full-time PhD student demands most of my time.

The first few weeks were spent just doing the paperwork to formalize the registration as a PhD student and start to get an idea of how the University and my school works. This time represent an opportunity to get to know a group of important people in my school who offer me support for any problem or question I could have now and in the future.

The University of Leeds offers me a wide variety of activities, academic and recreational. Some part of the academic activities I have attended different workshops where I can develop my skills as I proceed through my research degree. These workshops, so far, have been very helpful and supply me with a lot of information to carry out my studies efficiently and to get in touch with other PhD students. The recreational activities, have allowed me to go out with my offices mates or with a big group from the university to explore Leeds and the neighbourhood.

At the same time, the university provides me with an excellent environment and facilities to carry on with my project. In the meanwhile, I have been learning about Herbig Ae/Be stars, clusters, and GAIA; which are the three key word of the project I will work on during my PhD.

The Beginning!

After going through the process of applying for a PhD, passing the interview and waiting for the final answer, in March of 2016, I received an email from Dr. Rene Oudmaijer offering me the place to be part of the STARRY project. This was a wonderful surprise and the start of a change of life. I had to rush in finish my Masters degree in June 2016 and begin with all the documentation I needed to live in the UK.  Because nothing is perfect, the documentation process was very slow and with a lot of problems which delayed my arrival at Leeds from September 2016 to January 2017.  Finally, on 6th of January, I arrived in Leeds to start the first part of my PhD at the University of Leeds. My journey to Leeds was quite surprising. First of all, the airline lost one of my suitcases during the connecting flight; and secondly, the change in the weather. However, I had a very unexpected welcome; first, at the airport from my supervisor and second, on my first day in the University from the other PhD student and staff of the School of Physics and Astronomy.

In this short time, I am trying to develop the basic knowledge for my project and this project aim to estimate the nature of clusters around Herbig Ae/Be. This work will be elaborated with data from GAIA (

This PhD has been a big challenge, in a new country and in a different language… but it is just the beginning…

Halfway through my first stage at Leeds

We are in the middle of February and the moment to go to Madrid for the second part of the project is getting closer. This proximity is making me realize that time flies in a project of this dimension. It seems that it was yesterday when Rene was explaining me for the first time the aims of the project. These last months have been quite productive resulting in an exponential growth of the ideas we have. I hope that before the time to go to Madrid comes all the project related ideas we have now will be well defined and polished, so we will be able to extract the best out of them in Madrid.
In a closer future, we are preparing ourselves for the First Gaia Science Symposium in Nice at the end of April and the work we are going to present there. I am very excited about that trip as it is the first opportunity for me to present my work in this project to the community. It will be very useful to see how other groups are using the Gaia DR1 data and how they are planning to use Gaia DR2 data. The huge amount of data Gaia is going to provide make the catalogue extremely polyvalent and hence it will be very useful to know other groups and ideas.
Alice Perez has now joined the project at the beginning of January and she is already fully integrated in the Leeds Astronomy department.  With her here the STARRY project has finally completely started and we all will see how this results in an improvement in our work.

New Year

Another month went by and we are suddenly close to Christmas time. This last month brought relevant improvements to the project and to the ideas we have in mind. The project is moving forward with good rhythm and we are starting to get some results. In fact, we decided that we have enough new information in order to present a poster at the First Gaia Science Symposium “Astrometry and Astrophysics in the Gaia Sky” that will be held from 24-28 April 2017 in Nice. This will be the first public presentation to the community of project results and I am quite excited about that. After two meetings with both supervisors of the project I have the good feeling that there is still a huge amount of work to do, and, although the more we know the more we need to perfectionate, it looks like we are working the right way.

That is not the only good news that came with this last month of 2016. Alice Perez will be able to join the STARRY project at the very beginning of the next year as another Ph.D. student at Leeds University, which will definitely give more impulse to the research we are doing. In these first four months of my Ph.D. we have built a solid base to the project and I am really looking forward to 2017, year in which I am sure we will achieve several interesting results.

Gaia Workshop at ESAC (Madrid)

After two months of approaching the topic and working with the first data release (DR1) of the Gaia satellite, Professor Rene Oudmaijer and myself went to the Gaia DR1 Workshop at the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Madrid, that started on 2nd November. It was three days of intense talks and hands on sessions related to how to understand, treat and work with the brand new Gaia data in order to maximize the quality of the research results. The organization was excellent and the workshop resulted very instructive and useful. I learned new techniques and programs for data treatment as well as how to deal with the sophisticated and sometimes tricky Gaia data. It was impressive to see how much work is behind each of the steps of the data reduction and how carefully the ESA has been treating the data making them easily accessible to the community.

The workshop was not the only good thing about going to Madrid. I had the chance to meet my other supervisor, Dr. Deborah Baines, who works at ESAC and see the environment in which I am going to work in the second part of the project. We had the opportunity to do a project meeting and talk about long and close term future work. I really liked the path we traced and I think I am going to enjoy a lot my secondment there.

In summary, it was a very productive stay in Madrid that in my opinion will bring very good outcomes to the project. I am looking forward to the next data release and to future travels, if they all are as positive as this one.

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