Leiden through the eyes of a Brazilian Astrophysicist

Isa Oliveira (33) from Brazil studied Astrophysics in Leiden.
‘At work in the Observatory I had access to opportunities I had only dreamed of – the biggest and best telescopes in the world.’

Why did you choose to study in Leiden?

I met my now husband while studying in the US at the Johns Hopkins University and he introduced me to Leiden, where he was a PhD student. At the time he was in the US working on his thesis with fellow researchers. Upon discovering the Observatory, I learned that Professor Ewine van Dishoeck, a leading scientist in my area of interest, works here and I immediately got in contact with her. The opportunity to work as part of such an excellent group was my main motivation to choose to go to Leiden, a decision I have never for a second regretted. I had wonderful years in Leiden, both personally and professionally.’

What did you especially learn in Leiden?

‘I learned to work hard and ethically; I experienced a support I never knew before, and have not met since. I learned to enjoy the sunny days I always took for granted, and to lead a more focused and less stressful life. Cycling every day was a big plus, although it did not come without its incidents. In my time in Leiden I had two minor bike accidents that led me to break my left arm twice!’

Study: Master’s in Astrophysics 2006-2007 at Leiden University; Ph. in Astrophysics in 2011 at Leiden University

Was it very different from your study and hometown in Brazil?

‘The cycling was the first immediate difference, as I was used to commuting between 30 and 60 minutes between home and the university in Brazil. The weather was also a big change, and the grey cold days were hard to get used to. At work in the Observatory I had access to opportunities I had only dreamed of - it was incredible for me to have access to the biggest and best telescopes in the world, and support to attend important conferences and show my work that anchored my career. Everything was state-of-the-art, I couldn't have dreamed of a better education.’

What is your favourite spot in Leiden?

My favourite spot used to be sitting at the La Place restaurant on top of the V&D building, having tea and pie while watching the city of Leiden below. I understand V&D has closed its doors, so I'm not sure that's a possibility anymore. However, my favourite thing to do in Leiden is to cycle around, enjoying the architecture and the canals. To me Leiden's charm is having not just one cool place to be, but a combination of charming corners, lovely squares and bucolic streets.’

How did your career develop after your studies? What do you do now?

After I finished my PhD at the Leiden Observatory, I was awarded the Harlan J. Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin, where I moved to continue my work on the evolution of Protoplanetary Disks and the formation of Planets. I lived and worked in Austin for two years, before moving back to my native Brazil. I was able to work as a Level A Young Talent Postdoctoral Fellow at the Brazilian National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development, a position I still hold. I continue to do research on the formation of planets in collaboration with Leiden colleagues and many others around the world that I had the opportunity to meet while in Leiden.’

Are you still in touch with other Leiden alumni?

My husband is the only Leiden alumnus I have contact with in Brazil - most of my fellow Leiden alumni friends are spread around the world and I do all I can to maintain those friendships, but I had the opportunity to meet some Leiden alumni during the Leiden delegation visit last March*. That was fun!’

* Photos Alumni Meetings Leiden University in Brazil.

Fotos Leiden Alumni Meetings SÃo Paulo

Fotos Leiden alumni Meeting Brasilia

Fotos Leiden Alumni Meeting Rio de Janeiro

Last Modified: 04-05-2016