Dr Becky Smethurst

The influence of morphology, AGN and environment on the quenching histories of galaxies
DPhil, University of Oxford, 2017
Tell us a bit about yourself – what was your PhD about and where did you study?
My PhD was focussed on understanding how galaxies change their shape and evolve over time. To do this I used classifications of galaxy shapes that the public had made possible through the website Galaxy Zoo. This people powered research made my PhD possible and allowed me to figure out not only what processes change a galaxy’s shape from beautiful spiral to giant blob, but also those processes that can simultaneously stop a galaxy from forming any more new stars. I studied for 3 years at the University of Oxford.

What do you do now? What did you decide to do next after gaining your PhD?
I now work as an independent researcher at the University of Oxford. During my PhD I got very intrigued by the effect of supermassive black holes on galaxies. Although these are massive, energetic objects, they’re tiny in comparison to the galaxy which is light years across. They shouldn’t be able to effect a galaxy at all but somehow they do – and all our theoretical models of the Universe depend on them being able to. I’m now searching for the observational evidence we need to prove that is happening.


Has having a PhD helped in developing your career? If yes, what has been the biggest impact? If no, why do you think that is?
Yes. My PhD allowed me to follow the career path that I am on. Without it I couldn’t work in research. One day I hope to get a permanent research position at a university so I can continue exploring the mysteries of the Universe.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer prospective students considering a PhD?
It’s not just about what you want to do your PhD on – it’s who you want to work with for three years as well. When you go for interviews, think about whether the person you’re thinking of working with is someone you could spend three to four years with and if you think your styles will work well together.


And what one thing would you suggest that new PhD graduates should do next?
Think about what makes you happy. If it’s your research, then follow that path. If it’s not then take another and be grateful that you spent your time expanding human knowledge just that tiny bit.

Lastly, what’s your favourite memory from your time as a PhD student?
Using a telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, 4000m in altitude, with the entire sky looking absolutely glorious above me.

Want to know more about Becky?
Subscribe to her great YouTube channel, check out her website and buy her book using the links below:

YouTube | Website | Book: Space: 10 Things You Should Know

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