siaa_logo_blue Encarni Romero Colmenero encari_circle

South African Astronomical Observatory and Southern African Large Telescope

Cape Town, South Africa

Job Title: SALT Astronomer


She is an Astronomer: What stage have you reached in your career?

Encarni Romero Colmenero: I am a SALT Astronomer, which is a short-term (three years) post-doctoral contract position.


SIAA: How many years since you got your maximum degree?

ERC: 10 years.


SIAA: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or a promotion in comparison with male astronomers?

ERC: I would say no.


SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?

ERC: At the SAAO, in the executive board and in terms of permanent astronomical staff, yes - there is only one female. In terms of short-term research staff we again have only one female amongst several males. The SALT Astronomers are doing better in this respect - half of us are female. But there are clearly strong male/female and, perhaps even more prominently, racial divisions still within the SAAO and SALT - we have come a long way since 1994, but we still have some way to go.


SIAA: What is your family status?

ERC: Married to another astronomer (Stephen Potter) and we have two small children (a girl and a boy) and a long-coat german shepherd daughter.


SIAA: Have you had any career breaks?

ERC: Yes. When I first finished my PhD, I followed my now husband to his postdoc in South Africa, and it took another year before another postdoc was advertised (and I got it!). I also recently took two six-month maternity leaves.


SIAA: How difficult did you find your return to work?

ERC: VERY hard. When I first got to South Africa, I not only left behind family, friends and my colleagues, but I also left my research field since it wasn't really worked on here so I ended up slowly moving into local research. With the arrival of the kids, it has become harder to concentrate and to work for long hours on a project like I used to, because I am now a mum and their needs are immediate.


SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?

ERC: 8-9 hours.


SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?

ERC: An active, interacting research community - for me, the spark of research gets ignited by interactions and discussions, it is not something that continues for long if I work on my own, especially with the family-life demands. Less meetings would help too! :)


SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?

ERC: I love my job - it's never the same from day to day and I'm always learning. However, precisely for the same reasons that I love it, it is not an easy, cushy job to do - it demands travelling, dedication, self-motivation and a thinking head! If you are going to do this, make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for, make sure you have the support of family, friends and significant others... and then do go for it and have a blast! Welcome to Astronomy! :)