Name: Dr Houri Ziaeepour
Job title: Research Fellow in Astrophysics/Programmer
What education and qualifications do you have?
1- BS in electronic engineering from Tehran Polytechnic
2- BS in physics from Universite Paris VII
3- MS in theoretical physics from Universite Paris VII
4- Ph.D. in theoretical physics (speciality: particle physics)
Give an outline of your career so far
My first job just after finishing my undergraduate education was assistant lecturer in
Tehran Polytechnic. It lasted only for a few months, because all the universities in Iran -
my country of origin - were closed for the sake of the "Islamic Cultural Revolution"! At the
same time, with the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, I couldn't leave the country for 4 years during
which for 2 years it was not even possible to find a job at my level of education, as I
was a woman and especially "not islamist enough"! During this period I worked as a tutor.
Finally when the Iranian regime understood that they needed the scientific knowledge of educated
people, man or woman, islamist or not, I could get a job as an electronic engineer/physicist
with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran for about 2 years and then I left Iran for France to
continue my education.
After obtaining my Ph.D. in particle physics, due to some relational problems with my
supervisor and the lab where I worked for my Ph.D., for more than 4 years I was obliged to
get non-scientific jobs as as research and development engineer. This period unfortunately had
a serious impact on my scientific career because when I finally had the opportunity to come
back to research I was considered to be an engineer and not a scientist. Although I had
never interrupted my contact with ongoing research, being far from scientific community and
the lack of publications in this period influence my career even today. The positive side of
these years was my experience in computer science and programming which has been also very
helpful in my scientific career, for being able to develop complex simulations in
cosmology and astroparticle physics, statistical analysis and data-mining.
Since 1994 I have worked first as a research engineer for 1.5 years at Strasbourg Observatory, and
then as research fellow for 3 years at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), and since 2001 at MSSL.
Although my official responsibilities have been more service duties in astronomy, I have
tried to increase my involvement in science and research especially in domains I am
interested in, such as theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics.
Why did you choose this career path?
You don't always “choose” the path of your career! After highschool, although I wanted to
study physics since forever, I followed an engineering education for economic reasons. But things do not always
go as you expect. For instance in my case, family, teachers, and other
people around me who said that with my engineering degree I would have better job
opportunities and then I could quickly continue my education in physics, never imagined a
revolution and a war in the country.
When after years of delay, in fact 6 years: 2 years before and during the Iranian revolution and
4 years after, I could finally continue my education, I was again obliged for mainly
financial reasons to go to a country in which the education system and language were quite
unfamiliar to me.
Then although I liked to work on a theoretical subject, after 5 days working on inflation,
for reasons completely unrelated to me, I had to change my Ph.D. supervisor and subject,
and prepare a Ph.D. in a more experimental area. But being a foreigner, not familiar enough
with the language and culture, and being sort of forced to do work assumed to be not my
favourite, prejudice of all sorts made work and communication with people more difficult and
naturally this affected my career afterwards.
In summary, not always and not all people have the luxury of choosing everything in their
career. However, the most important thing is to have a goal and don't get lost in obstacles
and difficulties. Maybe for me one of the rare examples of “choosing” was when I came to
MSSL. In fact after leaving ESO, I worked a few months for a publishing company as a
software engineer and my salary at that time was 30&percent; more than what MSSL offered me. But I
left that job because I preferred to work in a research environment.
What does your current work involve?
I have the responsibility for design, implementation and maintenance of an object oriented
database for a project called XMM-Newton XID (for x IDentification). Its aim is the
identification of X-ray sources discovered serendipitously by the XMM-Newton satellite. I am
also involved in the Swift project as a Burst Advocate (BA) who is mainly responsible for
following further observations of afterglows of gamma-ray bursts detected by the Swift satellite,
and sometimes getting involved in the related science. When I get time I also try to do
some independent research which is mainly related to dark energy and its models and other
theoretical subjects in particle physics and cosmology.
Hobbies and interests outside work
And apart from astronomy and particle physics I am interested in other science - just at
the level of general knowledge - such as geophysics, paleontology, condensed matter, etc.
Amongst non-physical sciences I like history, especially in its socio-political aspects.
If I get time, I design and sew my clothes! and repair/reconstruct/redecorate my flat in
a Paris suburb.