Friday, June 22, 2012

Meet Janine

Heya, I'm Janine, one of the blog writers for the CANDELS blog. We thought it's a nice idea to tell you a little bit more about ourselves in this blog, too, instead of just writing about science results. After all, we're all just humans and there is nothing scary or intimidating about scientists (well, most of them anyway).

So there's really 2 sides to me that I can tell you about. Dr. Janine Pforr, the scientist, and Janine, the private person. Let me start telling you a bit about my scientist side to give you an idea how I ended up where I am right now.

I grew up in Germany (and yes, I'm a German) where I went to school for 12 years and finished with the so-called Abitur (you'd call it A-levels in England or high-school diploma in the US) which allows you to go to study at Universities. During the last 2 years of schooling you have to pick out 2 major subjects in which you will receive more training than in the other remaining subjects. For me these were Maths and Physics. I always liked them and was good at it and had shortly before deciding found out that this is what I'd need to become an astronomer. So really there wasn't that much choice involved. This was what I had to do to and I did it (I know it sounds simple but that's just how I felt). I finished school in 2001 and went on to study Physics at the University of Heidelberg (you can't study astronomy as an undergrad in Germany).

View of Heidelberg from the Castle
credit & copyright: Janine Pforr

Sunset over Portsmouth, UK
credit & copyright: Janine Pforr
It took me 5 and a half years before getting my diploma in Physics. During this time I tried to attend as many astronomy lectures as I could, volunteered for mini research projects and met many like-minded people and made great friends with whom I'm still in contact, some of them are astronomers like me. The last year of the diploma studies involves a research project and writing up a dipoma thesis (you can compare it to a masters). Not surprisingly, I chose an astronomy topic for this and carried out my diploma thesis research at the State Observatory in Heidelberg, the Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Koenigstuhl, under the supervision of Dr. Jochen Heidt. My thesis consisted of studying the radio sources in the FORS Deep Field, a very deep survey of a small region in the sky. I really enjoyed my time there, not only scientifically but also personally by getting involved in the local outreach activities such as giving guided tours.

Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ
credit & copyright: Janine Pforr
I received my diploma in 2007 and then went on to do my PhD at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation under the supervision of Dr. Claudia Maraston. For this I moved to Portsmouth in England. In the 4 years of my PhD I looked at the stellar population properties of about 1.5 million galaxies in the SDSS and BOSS surveys (Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey) and with the help of simulated galaxies tried to figure out how the parameter choices one makes while determining the galaxy properties effects the outcome

End of September 2011 I successfully defended my PhD thesis and boarded a plane to America 2 days later to start my first Postdoctoral Researcher job (short post-doc) at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. As you might have guessed, I'm working on CANDELS as a post-doc. Some of my tasks involve techniques and methods I learned during my diploma and PhD, some of it will be new. Basically, I am an observational astronomer interested in the properties of galaxies and galaxy evolution. Since I'm also very interested in public outreach I am now also leader of the education and public outreach working group within CANDELS. Part of the efforts other CANDELS scientists and me are carrying out in that area is the blog you're reading just now. We hope you like it and for any suggestions and ideas on how to improve are always welcome. Feel free to use the comment option below this post!

Park in Nottingham, UK
credit & copyright: Janine Pforr
Small Waterfall in Reid Park, Tucson, AZ
credit & copyright: Janine Pforr
Now, enough of all the resume things. I've told you how I came to be an astronomer, but who am I as a person? Yeah, I was a geek at school, but that's not a bad thing in my eyes. All my life I have loved the night sky with all the twinkling stars, the thought of vastness behind them and lots of non-girly things like tools and helping my dad with the crafty things around the house. I've built a cardboard castle when I was little and spent many of my weekends exploring the surrounding castles, fortresses and palaces with my dad. Everything medieval would do. I'm a fan of films and books, especially the kind that draw you into their world and let you read all through the night because you can't possibly manage to wait a couple of hours to see what happens next. One of my favourites is Harry Potter. But there are many others, too. I absolutely love photography because I love the idea of capturing moments in time and the memories with them. I'm fascinated by Asia, especially China because of its rich culture, long history and diverse nature, so much so that I started learning Mandarin during my PhD. Unfortunately, I have never been to China. Not yet, anyway. But I will definitely go some day. 

I really like nature, everything green and tree-y, and water, as ocean, lake, flowing river or just a puddle or rain drop. I know, living in the desert now, it's rare and what they call river over here is really just a dried-out riverbed that hardly ever sees moisture but I'm looking forward to the monsoons and the spectacular thunderstorms that come with it. Not surprisingly, I also like swimming, and at least pools they have over here. 

I'm a big fan of the "Ampelmann" (East German traffic light man). Yes, I'm from East Germany and I think ours is much cuter than the West-German version! Every now and then I do indulge in a bit of "Ostalgie", after all I was only 6 years old when the Wall came down. 

East-German traffic light man at pedestrian crossing in
Heidelberg, Germany, credit & copyright: Janine Pforr
I collect elephants and love yellow which I completely blame on my parents. My favourite toy as a baby was a yellow rubber elephant which I managed to protect from being thrown out over the years.

I love and dearly miss my family and friends, which are spread all over the world by now, a "side-effect" (it's good and bad) from being an early career astronomer: lots of travel and living in lots of different places for relatively short amounts of time. But you also meet lots of new people and make new friends around the world.

Everything else about me I think I keep to myself, a little mystery has to remain. Just know that despite the distinction I made above between scientist and private person, I really couldn't just be one or the other.

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