help-2444110_1920 (1)

How I found space in the World of Astronomy- Aashih Gupta


              Hello, fellow Astro-enthusiasts. In this blog, I will tell you about how I was able to enter into the field of astronomy/astrophysics despite my engineering background. I hope my experiences can be of some help to you. 
Let’s get started. (If you are short on time, skip to Section 4)

1. Background

I did my B. Tech. in Mechanical Engineering from IIIT Jabalpur. Although it is an institute of national importance, still it lacks the kind of courses or infrastructure IITs have. In my first year, I joined a research lab in our institute and experienced research in mechanical engineering. Though it was an important project, the work I was doing there lacked a certain gravity *no pun intended* to me.  I later got exposure to Astronomy through the Astronomy and Physics Society of our institute. A couple of my seniors were into astronomy and they told me about vast arrays of online courses available on platforms like Coursera (getting financial aid for certificates is easier) and Edx. I did some courses on Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology, and got a better feel of what exactly this beautiful field is. I became very interested in this domain and was sure that this is the kind of work worth investing my life into. 

2. Journey

I started looking for research internships in this field. I had already missed the official application deadlines for most of the internship applications including the Indian Academy of Sciences fellowship. I started emailing professors at IITs, ARIES, IUCAA, IIA, TIFR, etc. i.e. basically every institute I came to know of. I was lucky that a scientist from ARIES Nainital agreed to supervise me for a summer internship. I saw how actually people are working in this domain and learned a lot. There was still a lot to know and therefore I started more dedicated efforts. I did some more courses online, this time on more varied domains including Python and Data Science which is very hot in Astronomy nowadays and something engineers can capitalize on. I also took up some online projects from ARIES and other places. My seventh semester was 6-months internship for which I tried really hard to get an internship abroad. Let’s say I sent 100 emails, I got 30 replies and 10 positive replies (actual numbers may have been different). But again in those 10, they were not able to provide me with funding and I did not want to ask money from my family. Another scientist with whom I had interacted at ARIES offered me a really nice project and I ended up going back to ARIES. The project required knowledge of astronomy as well as data science, and we did get some nice results. I also presented a poster at an international conference at S.N. Bose Kolkata and a journal publication is in process. These research projects gave me a lot of confidence.

During this time I also got a chance to network with a variety of people associated with this field. I met some professors from foreign universities and came to know about opportunities at their universities. I met some students and came to know about communities like Rad@Home (A citizen-science programme). Eventually, my network grew, I became part of different types of groups and became more aware of the variety of opportunities available.

After the end of my seventh semester, I started looking for Masters opportunities outside India. I had not given any of GREs and did not know of any reference where I can see colleges where I met eligibility criteria. I also needed their funding (stipend/scholarship), another hard constraint. I started doing my own research using QS world rankings and eventually got some universities where I could apply. I still had to give an English proficiency exam (like IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) and by the time I got my IELTS score, I missed a couple of important deadlines. Practically, I could apply to only 3 universities: the University of Alberta, Canada (where I missed priority deadline because of IELTS), University of Western Ontario, Canada and National Central University, Taiwan (about which I came to know through a Professor there whom I met in ARIES). I also applied to the Autonomous University of Madrid but the application got stuck because I needed to get some formalities done in Spanish equivalent. I tried to apply at the University of Geneva too but they required some hard copies of original documents and I did not have enough time left to mail them those.

3. Destination

To be honest, I almost accepted that I was not going anywhere this year. I thought I will take a ‘drop’ year and study for GREs. Thankfully, I got admission in Graduate Institute of Astronomy at NCU Taiwan. NCU Taiwan is a decent university, not very well known but they have a separate astronomy department. What’s more, they operate the main observatory of Taiwan: Lulin Observatory. Also, my tuition fees are completely waived off and I am getting some monthly allowance for covering my living costs.

4. Things I did right

  1. Research. The research projects in my CV was my biggest selling point. 
  2. Gained knowledge about my domain especially through online courses. This helped me directly, I was eligible to apply for the University of Geneva after they checked the course certificates and indirectly, I was able to do better research and include more points in my SOP/CV.
  3. Networking. I would not have known about the opportunity at NCU Taiwan if I did not have talked to the Professor. I still feel that I should have started doing this earlier. Good thing you are already here.

5. Things I did wrong

  1. Not giving GREs. Needless to say, I was not able to apply to a lot of universities. I would especially recommend giving GRE Physics.
  2. Not being enough prepared for applications. If I would have kept a better record of opportunities, deadlines and requirements, I would have been able to try my luck at better places.
  3. Not pushing my CPI. Although I had a CPI of 8 (which seemed decent enough for me), my application got rejected in the University of Western Ontario because it was low compared to rival applications.

6. Conclusion

I would like to conclude by saying that if you are planning to undertake a similar endeavour; take your time, get out of your comfort zone, and be fully prepared. Leave no stone unturned as some little effort now can change your future drastically.

Thank you very much for your patience. 

13 thoughts on “How I found space in the World of Astronomy- Aashih Gupta”

  1. That passion led you to the world you deserve.. Keep going and thanks for the post it is really helpful to the people like me who are interested to have their career in Astronomy and astrophysics

  2. Thanks.

    I think it is more important to do some courses related to your domain of interest rather than any particular defined set of courses. The aim is to add up your knowledge of field in general and show your dedication in your CV. Do whatever you find interesting and relevant.

  3. A very nice journey, all the best for your future. It is really helpful for beginners like me. How can I contact you for further information (I know it sounds bit odd to ask like this in comment section, but i didn't have any other option, sorry for such misbehaviour)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *