Rita Tojieri

Rita TojieriI'm an STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow working in galaxy evolution and observational cosmology at the School of Physics and Astronomy in St Andrews. I did my undergraduate and PhD at Edinburgh, after which I moved to Portsmouth as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation for 5.5 years. I moved back to Scotland in March 2014 when I took up my current fellowship in St Andrews.

I remember that as I filled in the application form it became clearer and clearer in my mind that I didn’t have much of a hope in receiving the award. But the format of the application is actually quite useful, and similar to applications for other prizes in that it invites you to review significant achievements to date separately to the more typical research proposal. Aware that practice makes perfect, and frankly desperate for some extra research money, I carried on regardless (with, I remember it well, a sick child on my shoulder the whole time). I was delighted to be shortlisted and that boosted my confidence enormously. The interview day, at the Royal Society in London, was a lot of fun in spite of my initial reservations.

The award itself, in spite of being a relatively modest amount, as been transformative to my day-to-day. I can attend conferences and meetings purely on interest and relevance, invite collaborators to spend time in St Andrews when it makes sense to do so, purchase books and equipment when it’s needed and make sure that my students and postdocs can attend relevant conferences. None of this was possible with the small travel and equipment budget I get from my STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowship and my department - I was constantly budgeting to the last penny and missing out on many opportunities. One of my favourite things about having a generous budget is that I can often choose to take the expensive weekday flights and spend a weekend at home when I would normally have to spend it traveling simply to make the budget work - my whole family has benefited.

I've also felt the benefit of the added exposure and the support from L'Oreal and UNESCO. The two organisations are very committed to making this award work for the fellows and on exploring other ways in which they can support us.