Life at MSSL
How To Apply
Profiles of Graduates
For Current Students
Alan Johnstone Prize
Name: Sheila Kanani
Job Title: PhD student in Planetary Physics
What education and qualifications do you have?
MPhys (Hons) 2.1 in Physics with Astrophysics from the University of Manchester.
5 A levels (old style!)
Give an outline of your career so far
I took a year out before university and worked for a company that wrote the software for commericial satellites,
starting off as an office junior and growing to learn programming and modeling. I then had various summer placements.
My first was at MSSL in the astrophyiscs department looking at gamma ray bursts with Swift. The next was at Jodrell
Bank Observatory working in pulsar astronomy. From this I got a great summer placement in Sydney, Australia using
radio telescopes like Parkes to search for extra-solar planets using pulsars. I started my PhD in space science 9
months ago and hope to go into academia once I finish in 2011. I have also attended UK, Russian and USA space schools.
Why did you choose this career path?
Initially I wanted to be a vet! Then I decided I wanted to be involved in the space industry and at the time my
"mentor" was Michael Foale, an astronaut. When I was about 13 I decided I wanted to copy his path - he did a PhD so
I decided I wanted to do one too! But as I grew older I knew it was a natural progression because I love learning and
space and physics and I have toyed with the idea of becoming a lecturer. I knew I was more interested in the science
rather than the engineering so I tried placements in various areas of physics before starting my PhD.
What does your current work involve?
My PhD involves using Cassini data to look at Saturn's magnetosphere, to see how it interacts with the ring system
and Saturn's many moons. I do some computer modelling but mostly data analysis.
Why did you come to MSSL?
I knew about MSSL from a visit when I was 16 and a summer placement. I saw the plasma-planetary PhDs being advertised
when I had just finished a space plasma course at university, which I had loved. The PhD sounded right up my street and
I was excited about the prospect of being able to use Cassini data as well. I also liked the idea of doing a PhD somewhere
where the actual hardware is being built and at a place where the students actually mix with the post-docs, engineers
and 'real scientists'. The clinchers was that I knew that MSSL had an amazing reputation from ESA and NASA and other
large space agencies.
What is it like being a student here?
I like the balance between being a student and doing real work here. No one treats you like you don't know what
you are doing and the work I do is important and useful to others. I get to see the same data as NASA scientists and
am able to use it in the same way, but at the same time there is a great network of support for students. I like not
having to share with undergraduates! The monthly lectures are informative and I do feel that I could become a PI some
day. Sharing an office with post-docs rather than students means I learn more and am able to talk to people other than
my supervisor about science. Socially there is always something going on; you can spend one lunchtime playing croquet
and the next making rockets with eggs as the payload. Everyone is helpful and friendly and I wouldn't chose anywhere
else to do my PhD! In total there are about 25 students which makes for a great night out and we don't feel like we
miss out on much by being so far away from UCL main campus, in fact we gain a lot by being separate as we interact
more with engineers and post-docs and thus get to see other sides of the space industry.
Hobbies and interests outside work
I am involved in the outreach side of physics so teach at schools and mentor at Space School UK. I love sports
and have joined the MSSL football team! I also play hockey and tap dance. I like going out, music, movies, scuba
diving...all the usual suspects!
This page last modified
16 September, 2008 by Sarah Matthews