Tag Archives: work

From saying goodbye to astronomy to finding a new job (and everything in between)

My postdoctoral contract came to an end last year at the end of September, and I had made the decision already quite a long time ago that I would not apply for an extension. I have been doing more or less the same in astronomy (namely asteroseismology) for the past ten years, and I wanted to move to a new field, where I can deal with more practical issues, and contribute to more burning problems of our society. I never regretted choosing astronomy as a profession, it was my childhood dream, and I got nice achievements in the field, but I have no regrets stopping and starting in a completely different topic. Change can be a good thing.

I had a very nice goodbye reception with more than a kilogram of M&Ms, three cakes and a lot of other snacks, so everybody was happy (with the food, not with me leaving), and I even got some presents from my colleagues (among others two Star Wars themed LEGO sets). Since I am still co-supervising a PhD student (and that is something I still really enjoy, so I don’t want to stop with it) I have kept my affiliation (and staff card) as a voluntary (unpaid) research fellow at the university (for which I am grateful to my old boss), but that changed nothing in the fact that I became unemployed in October.

Thanks to the very generous Belgian social security system (we pay those high taxes for a reason after all) I did not have to rush into a new position, so I had time to look for jobs that would really match both my skill set and my interest (and the fact that I really did not want to commute to a job outside of Leuven).

I definitely took my time. I used October to just relax and – as already mentioned before – just bike as much as possible. Luckily the weather was still great, so I could really make the most out of the month this way. By the end of October I had satisfied my biking needs to the full extent, so I started browsing the job market more actively. I got myself a job coach who helped me organise my thoughts about what kind of job I would like to do, and who also gave some useful tips on how to organise my job search and how to prepare for an interview. I set up some very specific keywords on the website of the VDAB (the Belgian unemployment office), so I would receive only relevant job offers, and of course I refined my linkedin profile too. I also attended a job fair aimed especially at people with a PhD, but that was more of a networking practice than anything else.

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In the beginning of November we went to the Ardennes for a few days where we had the nicest Belgian hike so far (around the branches of the river Ourthe), and surprisingly we still got enough warmth from the sunshine to eat pancakes on a terrace.

Besides the job search, I still had quite some time do do other things. Of course while I was unemployed I did all the groceries, cooking (with my speciality being a delicious Pad Thai), and cleaning around the house. Whenever the weather allowed I also went cycling (for example for a nice 100 kilometre loop between Namur and Huy), and on the late evenings I played either FIFA (my biggest achievement this year is the treble with Liverpool on World Class difficulty), The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (a really great game on the Nintendo Switch), or Cities: Skylines (a city building game). Hoping to get more group rides next year I joined the Vlierbeekriders cycling club (because with Squadra Tornado people are way more racing oriented, so during the good weather months everybody is off to races on the weekends and there is nobody left to do long rides with).

I have to say that by December I started to get a bit bored at home sometimes, so I got really excited when one day I found a very exciting job opening in my mailbox. It was a junior researcher position at Transport & Mobility Leuven to contribute to both national and international research projects within the area of transport research (e.g., work out adequate solutions for critical mobility issues, making use of state-of-the-art transportation models, evaluation techniques, statistical analysis and data collection). Not only was the job-description interesting, but it was also clear to me that I am a very good match, so I immediately knew that this was the job I want. I also realised that I actually know someone at the company (from cycling), so I could use this connection to get to know more about the work and atmosphere at TML. The things I had heard made me even more interested, so I sent in my CV and motivation letter on the 19th of December.

In the meantime I attended a great Christmas lunch with a dozen of other people at my PhD student’s place (for which I made a beautiful and tasty New York cheesecake with meringue topping), and we also adopted a cat. I am so happy Clio agreed to that, it is so nice to have Filou around :)

The application deadline was at the end of the year, but I already got a reply on the 4th of January, in which I got invited for an interview. The only one I had before was for my PhD, and it was with people I already knew from my ERASMUS stay, so I did not know what to expect… So my first real “corporate” interview was on the 9th of January, and it went very well. It took 1.5 hours, and we talked about a wide range of topics (in English), ranging from what I did during my academic career to my favourite problematic traffic situation in Leuven. I even got to talk about my star atlas project. All in all I came away with a very good feeling, wanting the job even more. Ten (very long) days later I got an email that they decided to hire me! I was so happy that I wanted to go and high-five Filou (after calling Clio and telling her the good news), but he did not really understand why I am jumping around in the living room :D That evening I was official to the yearly dinner of the Institute of Astronomy, so I got to celebrate with champagne too :) I signed my contract on the 22nd, and started working already on the 1st of February (by bringing two home-made cheesecakes, since it was not only my first day but also my 33rd birthday). I have a lot to learn, but it is very interesting, so I am convinced that this is the beginning of another exciting chapter in my life!

May and June of 2017

This is just the usual summary of recent events, outside of the more important ones that I have already covered in a few separate posts on the blog. One of these is that the blog turned 10 years old in June! I have been writing here for almost 1/3 of my life…

First of all, cycling: after coming home from La Palma I was not really in the mood for cycling for a while, and one of the main reasons was the bad weather. It is not unreasonable to ask for weather that is warm enough to put the winter outfits away at the end of April, right? Luckily while visiting the Netherlands with my parents, spring finally arrived for good, and the temperature in the past two months (at least when I was out riding, with an average of 19.5°C and 19.6°C) was even better than in the same period of the previous 3-4 years! Belgium is in the middle of a quite significant drought right now, so rain was not an issue either. As a result I had my third best month on the bike ever with 1399 kilometres in May (including nearly 11000 metres of elevation gain, which is a best when not counting months when I was riding outside of Belgium, and almost exactly 50 hours on the bike, which is good for a fourth place overall in my cycling career).

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I started by doing the Tour de Namur, where after 100 very strong kilometres I lost all my power and felt like dying on the climbs, therefore the remaining more than two hours were really difficult, maybe because I did not bike for almost two weeks before that, or simply because I was way too hot with arm warmers and a merino base layer in 22°C… That was stupid, but it was only 8°C at the start!

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Then a week later on the usual Saturday morning Squadra Tornado group ride I had very good legs, so I made some extra plans for the following week. Mainly thanks to taking a day off from work and going to the Ardennes for a 140 km loop over the highest point of Belgium (which by the way was really beautiful, but after 100 km I was dead again, thanks to the wind and the 30°C), this became a week of 475 km on the bike (with 4400 m+). Far from being on the podium, but a good one nevertheless (and likely my best for 2017). Then I was crazy enough to join Willem for a sprint training on one of the evenings, which was on one hand pretty cool (because I love sprints), but on the other hand I was so empty by the end, that when I arrived home Clio was worried that I would pass out on the couch. (I was just fine. Really.) Two days later I rode the Buurthuis Classic with Steven (Willem’s brother, who is probably going to kick my ass too after another year on the bike), but I could still feel the sprints in my legs. To keep things interesting I also did some off road biking here and there, and a few chill rides too, once even involving cake and coffee in Mechelen. Finally, last Saturday I did the first 200+ km ride of the year by doing the longest version of the Ti’Light Classic, extended with biking to the starting point in Tienen and then back home from the finish, making it a nice 219 km day. It was a great ride with good legs, until reaching the 150 km mark I was not tired at all, and only the last 25-30 kilometres were difficult, fighting alone against the headwind. This week it is basically too hot to bike (but I still went out on two evenings).

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In the good weather we also had a BBQ (thanks for inviting us Lies and Willem), cocktails in the city centre, ice creams on a boat, and I made my first non no-bake cheesecake (it was delicious). Moreover, we went to cheer on one of Willem’s many races, and I took some photos too, a few of which turned out quite OK ;)

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The end of another Premier League season arrived for Liverpool FC and I had a few nervous moments during the last weeks of it (because it would not be the “Liverpool Way” if there was nothing to worry about until the second half of the last game), but at the end everything turned out OK. They kept a clean sheet during the last 4 games while scoring 8 goals and collecting 10 out of the possible 12 points, and the team finished in the Top 4. This means that next season they will be in the  Champions League again (assuming they go through the play offs)! Also, the new jersey looks awesome (back to the classical Liverpool red).

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Concerning work, I took over the twitter account of the institute, I organised (delegated all the work to others) the open door days, and coordinated our outreach group during the past months. I think we are doing all right, but if the institute had an actual employee to do this as a full time (or 50%) job, things could be improved a lot.

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We are leaving on a road trip to Scandinavia soon, and I am planning on posting a few pictures along with a short text every day here, so the blog might get busier for a while again :) Thanks for reading!

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First days at the Observatorio del Teide

After finishing the internal version (ready to be sent to the co-authors) of my first paper on Wednesday evening after weeks of hard work (even on weekends) and iteration with my supervisors, I had to pack in for a full moth, as I was getting ready to leave for two observing runs and for some holidays to the Canary Islands. As always, packing took ages, so I had no sleep at all before my taxi arrived at 5 on the morning. The most difficult part was packing my racing bike to its bike box, because everything had to be placed very carefully, to avoid any possible damage during the flights. (The wheels were placed on top of the whole stuff in separate wheel-bags, but still into the bike box).

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At the end (after I had to reopen the box – at which point I was swearing a bit – because I forgot to put the big pump inside…), I had 60 kg of luggage (and I even had to leave my tripod at home, because it really did not fit in anywhere): 32 kg in the bike box (as the box itself weights 12 kg, plus the bike is 8 kg, plus I put in some other stuff too to save space in my normal bag), 22 kg as normal check-in luggage, and 6 kg in my hand luggage. (And I had to pay only 75 € for the bike box, and nothing else. Luckily.) I took the Iberia flight to Madrid at 8 AM, then another from the same company to Tenerife after waiting two and a half hours at the airport. (I still love airports like this one.)

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Luckily, as the original plan was only one and a half hour, and I was a bit afraid, that the bike box will not make it in time from one plane to another… A managed to get some sleep during the flights, but I was still extremely tired upon arriving to the Canaries. (And then it came to my mind that I will have to do the same endless packing three times again in the coming month… But OK, I stop complaining.) After collecting my normal luggage, I had to go down one floor to pick up my bike box, but that floor was completely deserted – with only a few lights turned on, endless baggage claim areas with no people around at all, and then, at the very end of the area, my bike box rolled out on its own, alone. With no personnel or anyone around. It was a bit scary… Then as I stepped outside, I was shocked by the 28°C air temperature, so I took off some clothes (:P) and headed to the taxi area as fast as I could. There, the taxi drivers were the ones under a slight shock, as they realized, that all this luggage was mine, and there was no other person traveling with me :D But no worries, everything fit in perfectly (with the rear seats leaned forward), and we were on our long way up to the observatory in no time. It was still early afternoon when I arrived and checked in at the Residencia of the Observatorio del Teide. (I might consider learning Spanish instead of Dutch, if I want to get a job after my PhD as a support astronomer somewhere…) I even met two Hungarians, which was a nice surprise! As I was extremely tired, I had not done anything later that day, except that I assembled my bike, and unpacked all my bags. Yesterday I woke up at around midday, and after a nice lunch, I went for a relatively short acclimatization ride on the afternoon. (GPS details here.) My policy is the following: as I am on a work trip here, I only go cycling on those days, when I have no observing duties on the following night (because I might be in a good shape, but staying up all night and working with expensive equipment is not something you want to do tired).

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First I went down to 2000 meter towards the NE (passing the famous colorful curves of the TF-24 road – see picture above), than I turned back, and climbed up almost to the point where I started, but as I felt still quite strong and I had still a lot of water in my bottles, I decided to ride a bit to the other direction on TF-21 towards the Teide volcano. It was really nice, with slopes between 4 % and 12 % (with 7-8 % most of the time).

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I made two short videos about the roads and the scenery from the bike, which are not the best quality (as I had only my compact camera with me), but they can be seen here and here. It is worth checking them anyway, as you can see how my new cycling glasses fit me :) I think they are extremely cool ;D The road quality is not the best everywhere, but it is generally OK. There are silk-smooth parts, and there are places, where one have to be a bit more careful… After 50 km and 1000 meter of elevation gain, I arrived back well before lunch, so I had time to take a shower and check my mail before I joined the others at the table. Later that night I tried to stay up as late as possible (watching TV series on my MacBook) to shift my rhythm from day to nigh-time, but I had to go to bed already at 3 AM. Still I think it is OK, as I managed to sleep till midday today, so by the end of the forthcoming night, the shift will be complete. Now I am praying for good weather, because the last nights were a complete disaster for the previous observers, and we need data badly…