EXPLORE Career Profiles: Nick Cox
December 31, 2023

EXPLORE Career Profiles

Name: Nick Cox
EXPLORE Project Role: Project Manager
Professional Role and Affiliation: ACRI-ST, Research Engineer
Nationality: Dutch
Current location: Toulouse, France

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

Already then, I was not very decided on what I wanted to be, and several professions caught my fancy,from being a chartered accountant (I liked numbers), an astronaut (the night sky was fascinating) to being a professional brick builder (the Danish kind of brick) 😉.

2. What was your favourite subject at school?

I don’t think I had a single favourite subject in high-school. I liked chemistry because of the hands-on experiments but also mathematics and economics (especially how it tried to capture the real world in numbers and equations). I also liked drawing and (practical) design to nurture my creative mind.

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

After much deliberation I decided, at the last minute, to study astrophysics in Utrecht (Netherlands). At the time the curriculum in Utrecht was quite broad with electives in astronomy, geophysics, oceanography, computing, experimental physics, and physical chemistry. I also thought it would be challenging and give me good career prospects. Out of curiosity I did a minor in chemistry, but finally I chose to stick with astrophysics for my master’s degree.

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

My first real job, after doing some temp work, was as a junior researcher/doctoral candidate. I wasn’t particularly looking to do a doctoral thesis when I stumbled upon a vacancy for an interesting research project (astronomy with a pinch of chemistry!). Since then I’ve had several academic jobs in Europe (notably Spain, Belgium, and France) before joining the company I work at currently.

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

After my doctoral thesis I was looking to stay in the Netherlands, and I applied for a fellowship at ESA/ESTEC (Netherlands). I did not get accepted for that position but was offered instead a position at ESA/ESAC near Madrid, Spain. This unexpected twist started my adventures abroad.

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

Many persons inspired me throughout my academic journey. I have had amazing supervisors for my doctoral project, but also for my other academic posts. I learned different things from each of them, all making me a better scientist, but also a better teacher, and hopefully a better project manager 😉.

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

I work mostly in the office, but I get to travel several times a year for project meetings or conferences (even though many meetings are now held online). Each day I typically spend some time to read and write emails, and do some admin. The larger part of the day I work on project tasks – with usually two or more projects running in parallel. Typical tasks are coding, data processing and analysis, writing and reviewing documents and articles, reading papers, preparing and holding meetings with colleagues, project partners and students.

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

It is very gratifying to work on a code and, after many mistakes, make it work. I also like the travel part of the job, to see new cities and places, and meet colleagues/friends from all over the world. As a researcher / R&D engineer I’m continuously researching and learning new ideas and topics.

One of things that can be sometimes frustrating as a project manager is to need to chase people to answer questions or deliver inputs (but of course for the EXPLORE project this is never needed with all those amazing partners in the consortium 😉).

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

For EXPLORE one of our ambitions is to further exploit the science platform we developed and to improve and create new scientific apps. Also, I’d like to create a start-up someday.

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

Follow your heart, but don’t entirely ignore your brain, to learn and work on what you find most interesting. Don’t be afraid of change, dreams evolve with time.

Quick CV

  • MSc in physics & astrophysics
  • PhD in astrophysics (2006)
  • ESA Research Fellow at European Space Astronomy Centre (2007-2010)
  • Researcher for Herschel space mission at KU Leuven (2010-2014)
  • Researcher for the Nanocosmos project at University Paul Sabatier/CNRS (2015-2016)
  • Research & Development Engineer at ACRI-ST (2017-current)

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