Interview: Dr John Stott

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Dr. John Stott is a lecturer and researcher at Lancaster University, with a research focus on field galaxies from 0 < z < 2.5. Having done his undergraduate degree at Oxford university, Stott did not properly study any astrophysics modules until his fourth year, due to his course at the time being quite restrictive, but for as long as he can remember, astrophysics has been his end game. After graduating, he went on to do a PhD, focusing on galaxies in clusters. These are mostly red, passive elliptical galaxies. Since then, he has altered his research path, now delving into the realms of the more common field galaxies. These are often spiraled and still star forming, so many people view them as more interesting. This sudden change in direction came after joining the K-band Multi Object Spectrograph (KMOS) team, and working on KROSS (KMOS Redshift One Spectroscopic Survey), looking at field galaxies. This was a high impact survey, using Integral Field Units (IFUs) to build up a good spectral and spatial view, and allowed the team to observe around 600 galaxies at redshift z=1, where previous surveys would only have been able to observe around 50.

Dr. Stott joined the Lancaster research group (XGAL) when it was very new. Formed in 2015 and spearheaded by Dr. David Sobral, this group is only around 10 strong, so each member can be really influential in helping steer the group and deciding any future directions. Being part of this group is allowing him to apply for one of the early projects with James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). He is also hoping for time on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile. This telescope, whilst not one of the larger ones, has its advantage in its speed. It will build up a picture of the entire night sky every few days which will allow users to see small, rapid changes.

There are many positive aspects to lecturing and research, Dr. Stott tells me. Interacting with the students is one of the highlights, especially since he had never lectured before joining Lancaster, so this was an exciting new challenge. The actual research is also challenging and rewarding, however there is a competitive side. “You could release a paper with brand new data tomorrow, but someone else is releasing it today” he says. This puts a large pressure on researchers to get their papers and discussions out as soon as possible before someone else does, since much of the data is public. You do however get to travel a lot – he went to Chile five times last year – as well as take part in national and international conferences. Earlier in July, Stott was at the National Astronomy Meeting in Hull, however next year, its going to combine with the European meeting, where he is hoping to give a symposium. There is a hope that the year after will be held on home turf in Lancaster.

Dr. Stott’s advice for young people wanting to go into a research career is think about it early. From the time you are studying for GCSEs and picking A-Levels, you should be making sure you pick subjects that allow you to keep your options open. You should be thinking about Maths and Physics, but also throwing in something completely different (he mentions English Language or History as examples). You need to have a positive attitude, and the ability to be resilient to setbacks. You may spend a lot of time banging your head against a wall. A sense of perserverance is necessary and a hard working attitude. There is no one demographic suited to research, and he says everyone should be encouraged to pursue it, as long as they have the drive and determination.

-Izzy