A new generation of ‘space-ialists’: Mathematician, Belgian, YGT

14 December 2011

Before taking up his trainee position at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany was a somewhat 'unexplored' country to Stijn Lemmens. He now sees his trainee year as a unique chance to pick up the German language and culture.

As a YGT at the Space Debris Office

Since I took up work at the Space Debris Office, I have had some really exciting moments. In fact, we have had to deal with two satellite re-entries, that of the American UARS satellite and the one of ROSAT, a German satellite. It’s been great to see how my colleagues in the ESA Space Debris Office cooperated with our international partners and monitored the re-entry of those satellites. I am indeed very thankful for being able to work in such a friendly and multi-cultural atmosphere. It’s a very stimulating research environment!

A mathematician on a 'space mission'

I studied Mathematics and a large amount of my tasks here are data mining and analyses. This has to be done thoroughly and qualitatively, of course, since future applications might rely on these techniques. As I enjoy astrodynamics, and especially the more interdisciplinary aspects of it, ESA was my preferred choice when I was looking for a first job opportunity after my Master’s degree.

Now, with some months of experience 'on the job' I have to say that it is great for me to see how pure maths can contribute to solving concrete scientific and engineering problems.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

I heard about the YGT programme while I was writing my Master’s thesis. I read through the YGT postings in November 2010 and found one that interested me a lot. I applied and had an interview in February 2011. I was very happy when ESOC confirmed two months later that it was me who would get the position. In the months before, I had of course been well aware of the fact that I was competing against students from all the other ESA member states. But I said to myself: "Wie niet waagt, niet wint".

I can only recommend to anybody: don’t hesitate, take your chances. I believed that I had the right skills and motivation for doing this job and I think this was the message that I conveyed during the interview for the trainee position.

A truly European working experience

After six months at ESA, I still notice the little cultural differences each and every day. It's quite amazing. Although we Europeans share the same values and our social behaviour is similar, we sometimes have very different ways of tackling the same problem, while at the same time working together effectively.

YGT at ESA means development in many respects

Personally, I see this one year as an ESA trainee as a stepping stone into space industry or a space-oriented research position. What I do at the Space Debris Office is very stimulating and has already influenced my career path. I am gaining a lot of additional professional capabilities which will help to shape my future. Being a trainee at ESA is a real advantage!

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