Sarah Leslie

What is your thesis topic or research interest?

My thesis is looking at star formation in local galaxies. Using the large number of galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, I am comparing the star formation rates of different types of galaxies (e.g. those which have an actively accreting supermassive black hole versus those that don't). This research will help us understand how star formation is stopped in massive galaxies. The majority of my thesis work is focused on comparing radio data and optical data in star-forming galaxies, to try and better understand what is producing the radio emission. For this project I am using data from the Sydney-AAO Multi-object Integral-field spectrograph (SAMI) to identify the processes occurring in these galaxies. For example, I am able to identify the presence of galactic winds which would affect the radio and optical emission that we see.

Where have you come from to join this program?

I moved from Perth, Australia to Canberra to enrol at the ANU for my undergraduate degree. I knew I wanted to do research in astronomy, and that ANU presented a great opportunity for this. I was in the Bachelor of Philosophy program, so was able to get involved with research as an undergraduate. I love working at Mt Stromlo, so have stayed here for my Master's degree.

How did you become interested in Astronomy?

I first became interested in astronomy in highschool when I did work experience at the Parkes Radio Telescope. I thought the radio astronomers were great people working on great projects.

What experience have you gained while studying at Mt Stromlo?

I have gained so much ! I have become a good public speaker and academic writer. I have written my own successful telescope proposals, and taken the observations to answer my own science questions. I have travelled overseas and within Australia for conferences and collaborations and made many new friends.

What has been the highlight of the program for you so far?

I'm not sure if I can pick just one highlight ! I have really appreciated being a member of a large team, the SAMI galaxy survey team, and receiving financial and other support from CAASTRO. My research group (led by Lisa Kewley) is the best - we bake, go to the beach to write papers, have cocktail parties, etc. The most exciting highlight is probably presenting my work in talks at international conferences.

What do you see yourself doing upon completion of your degree?

I am moving to Heidelberg, Germany to do my PhD at the Max Plank Institute for Astronomy. I will be looking at the cosmic evolution of star formation. I am looking forwards to living in Europe ! After that I hope to get a post-doc position to continue being an astronomy researcher.

Would you recommend Mt Stromlo to others?

Mount Stromlo is one-of-a-kind institution. There is a great sense of community on the mountain, and everyone is very friendly! At the same time, Stromlo is quiet and serene but you can still have stimulating discussion with world experts in particular fields. You share the mountain with cute kangaroos and wombats, which is wonderful. Also we have a coffee machine !

What are the benefits of life in Canberra?

Canberra is a quiet city with lots of native Australian flora and fauna. There are great hikes in the surrounding region.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying Astronomy?

Most of your time will be spent programming. Having some coding experience would be useful, but most of us pick it up as we go. Astronomy (in Australia at least) is a very progressive community - we are actively working towards increasing equality and diversity in the field. And even if you then decide astronomy isn't for you, you will have gained many transferable skills such as statistics, programming, communication, problem solving, ... So my advice is to go for it !