Summer in Dwingeloo
by Claire Cook (JIVE/ASTRON Summer Student 2022)
My name is Claire Cook, I'm in my fourth year of completing my Bachelor of Science in Astronomy from the University of Kansas in the U.S., and this summer I had the chance to work as a summer student with Suma Murthy, Rafaella Morganti, and Zsolt Paragi using VLBI to study the effects of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) on galaxy evolution. Working here at JIVE has been a unique and exciting opportunity. This summer project presented a myriad of new experiences for me—living abroad, working with VLBI, and engaging with such an internationally-collaborative organisation like JIVE. Out of all the internships for which I applied this summer, this one was my top choice for a reason and I’m more than grateful to be here.
The JIVE community is a fun one and I’ve had a blast working with everyone here this summer. There was something about sitting at my desk in the JIVE corridor of ASTRON—writing code, analysing data, imaging our source, combing through the literature, discussing findings with my mentors—that made me feel like part of something larger and meaningful. The science we’re doing is fascinating, the people were friendly and genuine, my advisors were fantastic, the coffee was good, and on Tuesdays I could join JIVE’s weekly meeting for cookies while on Wednesdays I could join ASTRON’s for cake. It’s a pretty tight-knit group that really went out of their way to make me feel welcome in a new and unfamiliar environment.
There were five other ASTRON summer students and we lived only metres away from the workplace in the Guest House. One of the quirks/perks inherent to this position is that you are quite literally living in a national park; you’re out in the middle of a forest and it’s a 5km bike ride past trees and fields to the nearest grocery store. Needless to say, the area is gorgeous, and Dwingeloo is a quaint place where I’ve found people to be nothing but kind. However, clearly we were also in a very isolated location, which made the friendly community of ASTRON/JIVE and the other summer students all the more vital. Whether it was movie nights in the Guest House living room or ASTRON auditorium, meeting other scientists for dinners at the pub in the forest, escaping 40°C temperatures to the air-conditioned office building after-hours to play cards, stargazing with the Guest House telescope out by the heathland, or weekend treks out of the area, we summer students did our best to band together against that isolation on our own. The bikes we were given were a must for managing the long distances to civilization. Though the bikes weren’t exactly made for those long distances, that didn’t stop some of us interns from, for example, cycling over 60 kilometres in a day to visit the adorable town of Giethoorn—“the Venice of the Netherlands”—or 12 kilometres through the forest to the nearest train station to visit Amsterdam and The Hague.
Unfortunately, the shadow of the pandemic still loomed over my summer experience, with certain disadvantages of not always having many people to interact with in the office, the Guest House not being stocked with food as in previous years, and much fewer planned activities for the summer students than I was expecting. The summer programme itself planned 3 out-of-office activities for the students in the 10 weeks I was here, including the unforgettable ‘wadlopen’ experience that took us hiking through miles of mud, sand, and rising tides to the island of Ameland, as well as a meet-up with a local horse-trainer and a day trip to visit the Westerbork Radio Synthesis Telescope, LOFAR core, and the 5000-year-old Hunebedden. As the first students after the years of the pandemic, the programme seemed to be in a bit of a recovering and rearranging phase that called for some creativity and innovation on our parts—a challenge I feel we rose to well-enough in order to experience the Netherlands when we were able and make some great memories.
Overall, I’m glad to have had this opportunity to be here and for all the awesome science, people, and places. I’ll be telling the stories from this summer for years to come.