Sarah Hasnain

Departure Date:
Return Date:
Local Institution:
Notre Dame of Maryland University
Local Advisor:
Dr. Brian Christy
Foreign Institution:
Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, The University of Manchester
Foreign Advisor:
Dr. Lina Levin-Preston
Student Status:
  • Q. What country were you staying in?
    • England
  • Q. Where were you doing research?
    • The University of Manchester
  • Q. How long were you there?
    • Ten weeks
  • Q. What sort of research were you doing?
    • I worked on a project titled “MeerOps: Optimising MeerKAT for Pulsar Timing and Observation”. The goal of this research was to optimize the use of MeerKAT, the largest and most powerful radio telescope in South Africa; finding a way to observe the greatest amount of pulsars in the least amount of time possible. Leveraging known information about MeerKAT, such as the technical hardware specifications, as well as metrics about pulsars, I created a series of Python programs to replicate the telescope’s tied-array beam structure and conduct our optimization analysis. The intended application of this project was to make the most of the limited, reserved time that researchers have to utilize MeerKAT.
  • Q. Did being abroad influence the kind of research you’re doing?
    • Yes! Being abroad at JBCA gave me the opportunity to collaborate with scientists from all around the world. A number of my colleagues are from South Africa, and it gave me such incredible insight on the history of MeerKAT, the impact that it has and will have in both technical and non-technical contexts. For instance, I learned of educational initiatives that SKA Africa is implementing in the areas local to the MeerKAT site, as part of their Human Capital Development Programme. Gaining such knowledge allowed me to further understand the significance of a radio telescope (and its optimization!) for both the astrophysics community, and society as a whole.
  • Q. What’s the coolest thing about being abroad?
    • Ultimately, the most amazing part about being abroad is meeting people and engaging with different cultures, experiences, and perspectives.
  • Q. What’s your favorite new phrase from the language?
    • “Cheers” and “Brilliant”
  • Q. What’s the hardest thing about being abroad?
    • There are so many places to explore and adventures to have - the most difficult part of being abroad is deciding what to do in your free time.
  • Q. What did you do in your free time?
    • In my free time, I focused mainly on science outreach. I participated in events hosted by organizations such as HER+Data Manchester, of which one of my colleagues co-organizes, as well as the Institute for Engineering and Technology. I have always wanted to learn web development, so I took an accelerated course by Google to gain proficiency in HTML/Javascript/CSS, on top of the coding skills that I was learning during my research project. I also had the opportunity to visit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Manchester, a “home away from home” for families with children who are undergoing treatment for serious medical conditions. I have volunteered with RMHC in the U.S., and it was truly an honor to be able to learn more about this organization and its work across the pond.
  • Q. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done or seen while abroad?
    • My first day in Manchester happened to be JBCA’s annual “Pulsar Day Out”, a day-long event that engages our team outside of the office. This year, we toured the Peak District Caverns and nearby countryside, learning about 350 million year-old rock formations. It was a great occasion to meet and interact with my new colleagues.
  • Q. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done or seen while abroad?
    • At the Jodrell Bank Observatory, there is a wall of clocks that displays the current time on Earth, Venus, Mars, Local Sidereal, etc. I was fascinated by this display and always took a moment to appreciate them when I walked by. The Observatory also has acres of gardens and even a dedicated beekeeper.
  • Q. What advice would you offer others thinking of going abroad?
    • Learn. Explore. Be curious! Talk to people and learn about their experiences. You will be inspired and captivated every day.
  • Q. What skills have you learned abroad?
    • I acquired many skills throughout this summer of research, in terms of technical proficiency (scripting/command-line programming, working with a new OS, etc.) as well as project management (identifying a need, collaborating skills to achieve a common goal, scope management). This was my first time abroad, thus, I also gained perspective regarding traveling internationally, working in and collaborating with people in different timezones, etc.
  • Q. Is there anything you’d do differently or anything you wish you’d have known?
    • I had the time of my life as an IRES participant! Many thanks to NANOGrav and the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics for this opportunity. My Jodrell Bank colleagues want me to come back, and I would love to collaborate again.