EXPLORE Career Profiles: Albert Zijlstra
December 31, 2023

EXPLORE Career Profiles

Name: Albert Zijlstra
EXPLORE Project Role: Lead Developer of the EXPLORE Stellar Scientific Data Applications
Professional Role and Affiliation: Professor of Astrophysics, The University of Manchester, UK
Nationality: Dutch
Current location: Manchester, UK

1. What did you want to be when you were 10?

Undecided, I think! I was already very interested in astronomy, perhaps in part because of the Apollo landings but a future job was too far in the future. 

2. What was your favourite subject at school?

I studied mainly the sciences. Other topics were dropped as soon as it was allowed. It was required to study at least two languages for the final exams, but that was the only non-science I kept! 

3. What did you study at university? Why did you choose those topics and the places to study?

I went to the closest university, as the first one from the family to go there. I studied astrophysics. This largely follows the physics curriculum, so it was possible to do something I was really interested in without having to worry about employability.

4. How did you get your first job? How many jobs have you had since?

After my undergraduate degree, I was able to go the US on a junior research position, which became part of my PhD. I have worked in quite a few places, both academia and industry, involving 5 different continents.

5. What’s been the biggest piece of luck or ‘surprise twist’ you have had in your career to date?

I have never done career planning so all positions I have held have involved chance or ‘luck’. I worked in South Africa for a year and can say that I have seen Mandela in person on the day he was release. That was quite a year.

6. Have you had a mentor or person that inspired you? How did they help you?

I have learned from several supervisors and colleagues. There isn’t a single mentor but every time you move to a new place, you’ll find new ways and methods for doing science.  It is important to make use of those opportunities and not just keep doing the same things.

7. What are the main things you do each day?

Every day is different. There may be teaching to do, in large lectures, small groups or face to face. There are new papers to read on the latest research and of course there is my own research to work on, almost always in international collaborations. Every day is a learning experience.

8. What do you like best about the work that you do and what do you like least?

The work is great. The teaching is rewarding and the research is exciting. On the other hand, the work pressure can be very high and this has become worse since Covid. You have to be careful with your mental health.

9. Do you have ambitions or things that you would like to do next?

Not really. I will see what comes next!

10. What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Not to worry. Everyone is different and everyone has a place.  Just do what you are good at and enjoy!

Quick CV

  • Academic qualifications
    • PhD
  • Main or selected jobs to date:
    • Professor of Astrophysics, The University of Manchester
    • Visiting Professor, University of Hong Kong (2016-2022)
    • Director Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (2010-2015)
    • Lecturer/Reader, UMIST 
    • Astronomer, European Southern Observatory
    • Research Fellow, South Africa Astronomical Observatory
    • PhD student, Netherlands
    • Junior Research Fellow, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA
    • Desk Editor, Elsevier Science Publishers

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