Research Fellows: Life at ESTEC


Holding an ESA fellowship in Space Science offers the unique possibility to carry out your scientific research at either ESAC (near Madrid, Spain) or ESTEC (Noordwijk, The Netherlands) and connect to ESA scientists. An official document ("Information and Guidelines for the Management and Support of Internal Research Fellows in SCI-S and SCI-O") gives some practical information about formal aspects of Research Fellows' stay at ESTEC.

Below are answers to some of the questions you might ask if you are interested in a Research Fellowship in the Science Directorate at ESTEC. If you would like to have further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of the current research fellows at ESTEC.


How many research fellows are there?

ESTEC's Science Support Office usually offers 4 Research Fellow (RF) positions per year in the Science Directorate, which means that there typically are about 10 RFs resident at any time. Our sister site at ESAC (in Spain) hosts a similar number of RFs and close collaborations between the two sites are encouraged. Other directorates of at ESTEC, for example the technical directorate, also employ some Research Fellows.


What percentage of the Fellowship will be research? Are there functional duties?

The Fellowships are 100% research. You can get involved for a small fraction of your time in activities that are of a more functional nature, i.e. closely related to an ongoing satellite project, if both you and your mentor agree, and you have significant gains for your career from doing so, i.e. when it creates a win-win situation.


Will I be independent in my research?

While you are working with support from your mentor, your research is your research and you are carrying it out independently. This is an important point to consider when applying!


Do I need a mentor? Should I contact them beforehand?

Yes, you need a mentor. And yes, you should absolutely contact a mentor for you and your science project before applying. They can provide valuable feedback for your application and a mentor is required for your application.


How many other scientists are there in my field at ESA?

ESA’s science directorate contains several hundred people at ESTEC. However, their research and mission-related work is distributed across many different fields from Space Weather Research, Solar Physics and Gravitational Waves to Exoplanets, Galaxy Evolution and Solar System Bodies. This means that while there are most likely scientists at ESA who are in your field (or closely related), their numbers will typically be small. The advantage is that you have the opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn about many different Space Science fields.


Is there any connection to scientists at other ESA sites?

ESTEC scientists collaborate closely with scientists located at ESAC and at the STScI in Baltimore. You can read more about the Science Faculty and Research Fellows at ESAC on their webpages. Additionally, the ESAC and ESTEC scientists meet annually for a 3 day workshop in November, at a location which alternates between The Netherlands and Spain. New RFs are encouraged to join in October so that they can attend their first workshop early on, meet their colleagues, and start forming collaborations.


Is there any connection to other scientists?

ESTEC in Noordwijk lies in close proximity to major Dutch Research Institutes, such as Leiden University/Observatory, Amsterdam University, and Delft University and thus provides possibilities for establishing or continuing collaborations with researchers at these close-by locations.


Can I travel to conferences?

You will normally be funded for up to 3 conferences per year, as long as you are presenting original research. Of the 3, not more than one should be outside Europe.


Can I travel to observe at a telescope?

You will be funded, within reasonable limits, to travel for observing campaigns if they are part of your research plan and if there are no other available funding means.


Is there any additional funding to enable collaborations?

Research Fellows (as well as other faculty members) can apply to the faculty's visitor programme to cover the travel cost of their collaborators to visit ESTEC. RF's travel away from ESTEC to work with scientific collaborators will also be funded within reasonable limits. In addition, Research Fellows who want to organise scientific workshops at ESTEC can apply for funding support.  


Is there funding for science projects which may need specific financial support?

The Faculty makes an annual call for research proposals which require funding for activities such as hardware procurement, development of specific data products, etc. RFs may apply for such funding, which is competitively awarded. The call usually comes out in December, so it is good to think about this as soon as you arrive at ESTEC (normally in October).


What will be my institutional affiliation ?

Your affiliation will be ESA's Science Support Office. In your publications, you should acknowledge the fact that you are a Research Fellow, e.g. "X acknowledges a European Space Agency (ESA) Research Fellowship".


Are there regular seminars?

Yes, there are! Besides ESA wide lunch lectures on all things space science, there are seminars/colloquia specific to the Science Directorate. At ESTEC these are the Science Support Office Open Seminars, the Science Support Office Internal Seminars, the Fellows' breakfast seminars akin to a journal club, special seminars usually given by science visitors and/or trainees/interns. For Fellows at ESTEC there also exists the possibility to attend seminars/colloquia at the nearby Leiden Observatory. In addition, there are many talks organized at ESTEC level on many different space-related topics.


What other resources are available ?

RFs will be provided on arrival with a laptop (Mac or Windows as they choose) equipped with a standard suite of software. In addition RFs have access to a diverse computing infrastructure, including a powerful Grid machine and all the usual data reduction packages. ESTEC has an on-site library, and online access to all major journals is free from the internal network.


Will I be able to supervise students?

ESA has a large trainee programme and as part of this, typically 8 undergraduate students visit our Office for periods of 3-6 months. In addition, in past years RFs at ESTEC had the opportunity to supervise undergraduate students for 10 weeks during the summer within the framework of the LEAPS summer student programme.


What are some alumni fellows doing now?

Several ESA Research Fellows have moved to stable and even influential positions after their time at ESA, e.g. some ex-RFs have become members of ESA's Science Advisory Structure. ESA RF Alumni include current MSCA ("Marie Curie") fellows, ESO fellows, ESA staff scientists as well as permanent researchers in science departments across the globe.


Will I receive help moving?

ESTEC has a relocation office which will help you in finding a place to live. Typically a short visit before your move to the Netherlands can be arranged (at your own cost), for you to view apartments. The relocation office will provide support in terms of rental contract negotiations/checking and setting up the viewing appointments pre-visit.


What about language?

The working language at ESTEC is English. Outside ESTEC, most people in the Netherlands speak English and communication is usually not a problem. However, ESTEC also offers Dutch language courses on site, the cost of which are partly covered by ESA.


Will I be able to build space science related skills?

Being at ESTEC will provide you with the opportunity to talk and connect to many space science researchers and ESA staff. You generally also have the possibility to sign up for a limited number of ESA training courses in a variety of space science and space related topics depending on availability.


What about the social life?

ESTEC has a wide range of sports and social clubs to join which offer the possibility to meet and connect to other ESA staff and contractors across all areas. ESTEC has an on-site gym and swimming pool. There are about 2000 people working at ESTEC, including many young people, and this provides many opportunities to pursue an active social life.


How else can I get involved in the department?

Many Fellows are involved in the faculty/Office life through participation in the faculty council, organizing seminars and workshops, presenting their own work at internal seminars etc.