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Data Analyst Intern
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

I’m currently halfway through my second year of a PhD course in Applied Mathematics. More specifically, my topic is Magnetohydrodynamics, where I study waves in the context of the Sun. Previously, I have worked on mathematical models for oscillations of structures on the surface, which can be triggered by explosive events such as solar flares. These flares are typically generated in areas of intense magnetic activity known as active regions. Such structures appear and disappear throughout the solar cycle, appearing more frequently in the what is known as the solar maximum and becoming almost non-existent in the solar minimum. Though it is important to formulate mathematical models for physical events, it’s useful to study real data to check that the model behaves as it should in the real world. To this end, I applied to the PREP bursary scheme in the hope of learning valuable data analysis techniques to use in conjunction with my theoretical work.

How did you find your placement/internship?

Speculative application

Application process

My supervisor had forwarded the application email to me, and we discussed the various options for possible locations of research. We contacted Dr Kiran Jain, and upon receiving confirmation that she was able to host me at NSO, I filled in the application form and hoped for the best!

Main responsibilities

The 4 weeks I spent in Boulder mainly consisted of grasping the fundamentals of the technique, how and why it worked, and implementing the code developed at the institute on data from several active regions. I learned how to sample my own data from a large database, containing information taken from the Sun each minute of the day. However, I think the most valuable technical skills I learned came from the programming I was required to do to use the data for plotting.

Typical day

For the first week, a typical day consisted of reading papers dating from the start of the techniques formulation in the late 80s, to more recent papers where authors have used the technique and drawn up conclusions. Later, I would go on the learn how the technique is applied, and would learn how to use the codes to be able to extract the data I specifically needed. Then, I would go on to plot various aspects of the data in order to see how different quantities varied, and get a feel for the different representations of the data.

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

I enjoyed the chance to meet other scientists in an institute quite different from a university. Each of the people I met had extremely diverse backgrounds, which helped me to feel more at ease, particularly since I am only in the early stages of my career. Each Friday morning, snacks were provided in order for people to chat over a coffee and a donut, and in doing so, I got to know some of the people who worked there on a more casual level, instead of in an academic setting. Coupled with the magnificent Colorado landscape, I had ample opportunities for hikes and taking part in the diverse activities that Boulder had to offer.

Challenging aspects

Before I arrived, I had only basic experience in using Linux based systems, and using IDL software, so by working with both of these each day for 4 weeks, I fully immersed myself in the computing side, and became much more confident in that respect. Programming doesn't come naturally to me so getting over the hurdle in the first place was a big step for me. Work aside, I had never spent a month alone, even back in the UK, so it was challenging to be dropped into a country where I knew no one and had to figure everything out on my own. However, I learned a lot about how the US works, and all the differences between our country and theirs, even though it seems like they should be similar.

Did you use any skills learned from your course?

I've since been using my newly acquired skills to research some specific active region examples for my own research. In particular, the programming skills have lead me to experiment a lot more with the Linux partition on my desktop and taught me to be less scared of what can seem like a daunting operating system.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

I think that my placement has taught me that there is no "one way" to get into the field that you would like to work in. A lot of the people I networked with had worked in Universities and such before settling on a research institution, and some had spent a lot of time teaching too. It inspired me to carry on with my research and gave me the motivation I needed to further my knowledge in my field.

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

Feeling scared is completely normal! If you feel scared, my gut feeling is to say YES and try something new. Taking the PREP scheme is the perfect way to throw yourself into new opportunities head first. The PREP bursary enabled me to live for a month in a place I never dreamed I would be able to work. I would recommend the PREP scheme to anyone who wants to submerge themselves in a new skill which would completely revamp their research goals.

Form completed: 17 Jul 2017

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