An interview with Brynley Pealrstone

Name: Brynley Pearlstone – but I prefer BrynBrynPearlstone

Current Job: Ph.D Student

Scientific Discipline/Field: Gravitational Wave Data Analysis – building up some tools to help search for continuous waves (or semi-continuous waves, with signals that are weeks or months long) that might come from pulsars

Country: UK

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G

Website: I kept a blog for a while when I was in America – – does that count? I never finished it the way I wanted to.

What does your job involve?

I’m still working on my Ph.D. The bulk of it is writing code, testing it, and writing. Specifically, I’m working with the LIGO collaboration to extend their targetted search for continuous gravitational waves from known pulsars searches by implementing a sort of Bayesian blocks-type analysis over the existing search. This is then to be used to follow up on detection candidates for gravitational waves from known pulsars to check that the signal is continuous, or transient (with duty cycles on the order of weeks to months).
But it has some other perks – travel for conferences where I can present the stuff I work on (and get out and see the world!). I really enjoy interfacing with the public in any outreach forum. I had spent 4 months at LIGO in Washington state – during which time I did some *gasp* lab work.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I originally applied to go to uni for psychology, but between applying to university, and finishing my A-levels, I had a change of heart. I ended up doing physics (I didn’t get the grades for psych, but because physics was less competitive, there were spaces open).  My undergraduate and masters programs were both really enjoyable (at least in hndsight!) – I liked the community around the physics department in Swansea, and hoped it was the same everywhere. My masters thesis was written on some work about General Relativity – and how gravitational waves act in a very specific circumstance. I really enjoyed the more abstract theoretical aspects. By the end of my Masters, I knew I wanted to continue but hadn’t applied for anything. I went back to my small home town in Somerset, and worked in ultrasonics for a year, doing finite element modelling. During that time, I applied to a whole LOAD of Ph.D programmes. Some were in particle physics, some in ultrasonics, and one in gravitational waves. I had a tip off from a friend in Glasgow that there was another gravitational wave position going in Glasgow, so I flew up for an interview and got an offer. The position in Glasgow had a big friendly research group attached – a support network, and a very nice supervisor. I got an informal offer, followed through with the formal application process and started that September!

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

I had always known that I wanted to be in science, long before I knew I was gay. So in a sense,, if anybody had wanted to place a barrier, I may have just snuck by it! But since I’ve been out, I’ve not really had any issues, except once, and even then only slightly – on my LTA to the USA, I elected not to go to the south (Louisiana) but to the Pacific  North West. I didn’t much fancy being surrounded by culture that isn’t known for its tolerance.  But that isn’t really much affectation. But going forward – I only know that I don’t need to work into fire – so after my PH.D is done, I’m going to carefully consider my next step.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

No, not really.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

No? I don’t think so? Maybe Derren Brown. I liked his confidence and showmanship, and only learned that he was gay after I had come out. Though my aunt was my scientific role model – she got her Ph.D in neuroscience when I was young – and I made a commitment to match her – or do better! Since then, I’ve strived to be in science, and to go far with it!

What are your plans for the future?

Well, to finish my Ph.D in about a year, and then see what opportunities life lets me catch. Whether it’s sticking around in Glasgow (I quite like this city!) and look for a job in the private sector, and settle in with my boyfriend. Or look around a little more for research opportunities, and not let location be too much of a definer.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I like to get involved – I’m trying to put together a Pride in Science walking party for Glasgow Pride this year, I like to keep a rolling discussion of LGBT+ issues in the LIGO Diversity sphere, I’m part of an LGBT+ – inclusive running group here, and I would love to be more involved with the community!

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