Case Study: Cormack Vacation Scholarship

“The Cormack Vacation Scholarship was my first step towards the career in academia that I did not know I wanted to do until that Summer”

Amy Rankine is a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews, where she studied at the School of Physics and Astronomy. Amy was awarded a Cormack Vacation Scholarship in Summer 2015 which enabled her to carry out a 6 week research project entitled “Studying the effect of varying alpha-enhanced abundances in full spectral fitting”.

Photo: Amy Rankine receives the Cormack Undergraduate Research Prize, awarded to the best Cormack Vacation Scholar, at the Royal Society of Edinburgh in November 2015.

Amy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a 23-year-old graduate of the University of St Andrews where I studied MPhys (Hons) Astrophysics. I am from Leven, Fife and was the first in my family to go to university. I was awarded the Cormack Vacation Scholarship for the summer after my third year of university and the experience opened my eyes to a career in academia.

Can you describe your project in less than 50 words?

Full-spectral fitting is a technique used to determine the properties of galaxies such as what kind of stars a galaxy is made of, and it relies on galaxy models and their emitted light. I investigated a new set of models and their ability to correctly determine certain galaxy properties.

What did you learn during your Cormack Vacation Scholarship and how will you use this knowledge in the future?

The summer project that I carried out was my first experience of research. Before this, I did not think that I would enjoy the work of a researcher as much as I did but I quickly learned that research suited me and that I would like to do a PhD after my undergraduate degree.

What would you have done if you did not receive RSE funding?

Had I not received the RSE funding, I would likely have still carried out the summer project with my supervisor, being funded by either my university or I would have worked without funding as the experience of research and everything that has come from it outweighs the funding.

What was your favourite part of the Vacation Scholarship?

I enjoyed hearing the research that the other members of staff were conducting at my university during the lunch meetings and journal clubs.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

I had not expected to enjoy the research as much as I did and for it to open my eyes to PhD study. My confidence in writing reports to describe my research and delivering this same information in presentation form also increased.

What do you plan to do now that the award has finished?

After completing my Cormack Vacation Scholarship, I continued to work with my supervisor and this led to a second summer project the following summer. The knowledge that I gained will help me greatly during my PhD at the University of Cambridge in the Institute of Astronomy – funded by STFC – which I will be starting in October 2017.

Would you say that the Scholarship helped with your University studies? If so, how?

Greatly – the ability to evaluate the work that I had done and the coding skills that I gained were invaluable. My confidence in my ability to share my research with others via posters and presentations also improved.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying for a Cormack Vacation Scholarship?

My advice would be to take full advantage of the opportunity. Definitely attend the SUPA/Cormack Meeting to meet other students from different universities and to hear from astrophysicists carrying out research in areas that you may not yet know interest you.

RSE Cormack Vacation Scholarships

The RSE Cormack Vacation Scholarship scheme enables undergraduate students studying astronomy to carry out a research project of their choice at a Scottish University. The next round will open in January 2018.

Cormack/Piazzi Smyth Undergraduate Vacation Research Scholarships in Astronomy