Henk Hoekstra is an observational cosmologist and associate professor at Leiden Observatory, Netherlands. Find Henk’s portrait interview here.
Which are the best schools for specializing in cosmology?
There are many good places, both in Europe and in the US. Most of them focus on the more theoretical aspects of cosmology, which has strong connections to particle physics. Some combine this with a strong astronomy department to focus also on the observational aspects. For instance, in Leiden we offer an MSc degree with a cosmology track, which you can enter as a physics or astronomy student. Other good places are the universities of Heidelberg and Munich in Germany, and various places in the UK.
How does one prepare for them?
A thorough understanding of physics and mathematics is what is the most important. The next step is an MSc degree in a relevant subject, such as theoretical physics if you like this side of cosmology, or astronomy if you like working on the data. But there are many options in between. What is important is to get high grades as many bright students are interested in cosmology. Following the MSc studies you have to apply for a PhD position to become a researcher. In the Netherlands, we are fortunate to offer 4-year PhD positions, whereas most places fund the PhD for only three years, which is really short.
And which are the most affordable?
In Europe, tuition fees are low for citizens of EU countries, although the UK is more expensive. The PhD work is usually funded, and some places, such as Leiden, offer a few grants for excellent MSc students. In the US, it depends a lot on whether or not you can get a grant.
Who was your mentor?
When you do your PhD, you work closely with your supervisors, which help you become an independent researcher. In my case, they were Marijn Franx and Konrad Kuijken. But later in your career more senior collaborators guide you as well.
What should be our child’s interests, so we can orientate it towards this field?
The most important part is curiosity. When they are young, children are very curious, but some of that disappears as we find our way into the world. It is always nice to find people interested in what I do, so the curiosity is still there, but most people could do more to rekindle it. There are so many opportunities these days, for instance, TED talks. But it is important to start young, and in Leiden we have started an international program to interest young children in science through astronomy. It is called “Universe Awareness” (http://www.unawe.org/). It is also active in Bulgaria.
The contact for UNAWE Bulgaria: http://www.unawe.org/network/national/bg/