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Community Profile: Alba Kalaja

Name: Alba Kalaja

Current position: PhD

Affiliation: VSI, University of Groningen

Field of research: Theoretical and observational Cosmology


What is your career trajectory to date? I completed my bachelor and master degrees at the University of Padova (2013-2018). I spent some months at the ICCUB of the University of Barcelona as an Erasmus student and later as a visiting student. Currently, I am a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen. I work with Daan Meerburg on CMB physics, primordial non-Gaussianity and lensing reconstruction.

What are the most exciting open questions in your research area? One of the most intriguing questions for me is: what happened in the first moments of our universe? Finding ways to explore the smallest scales is very exciting.

What do you like and dislike about being a scientist? There are so many things that I love about my job: the problem-solving process, so frustrating at times but highly rewarding when you see the results; challenging myself with new problems; working with amazingly smart and creative people, who inspire me and keep my motivation high. Obviously, travelling is another perk and I would like to start doing it again once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. I dislike the lack of job security, the idea that I’ll have to choose between having a career and being close to loved ones. Also, I don’t like the toxic environment that still persists in some institutes and universities.

Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful? I like to think that I’m well organized and tidy in code-writing. I’m also a very empathic person... this is a skill, right?!

In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about? I remember the excitement for the first detection of gravitational waves and the latest Planck results. The picture of the black holes was also super cool. On another note, I was happy to see how scientific effort could produce viable COVID-19 vaccines in such a short amount of time!

What new skills would you like to learn in the next year? I would like to improve my coding skills, maybe throw myself into machine learning.

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to? There are so many upcoming experiments to be excited about! I’m looking forward to CMB missions like SO and CMB-S4, but also Euclid, SPHEREx and LISA. I believe they will give us a huge kick into solving fundamental questions in Cosmology.

What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe? Mainly connecting people, especially young researchers who do not have the chance (or resources) to make meaningful connections.

What’s your favorite food? This is a tough one so I’ll go for food that gives me good feelings: my grandma’s petulla (Albanian fried dough), pizza and fries.

Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising? I was born in Albania, grew up in Italy and lived in Spain. Every country has given me meaningful memories! Definitely, the international vibe and the incredibly good food in Barcelona made me feel welcome.

How do you like to relax after a hard day of work? Usually watching a series, reading a book, cooking, taking care of my plants, sometimes drawing and writing. When the weather allows it, I like to go out on picnics to explore the Dutch countryside.

Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share? I love reading and jigsaw puzzles. I always enjoy a good fantasy or sci-fi book, but I read any genre. Lately, I’ve become more interested in gender issues and sexism in languages (especially Italian!).

If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing? I’ve always had an interest in linguistics, philology and ancient history, so I would probably be doing something in those fields… research, again?!

What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years? In cosmology, I hope we will know more about the early universe and the nature of dark matter/energy. Generally, I would like to see more concrete solutions to climate change, and more sustainable and ethical alternatives to meat and fish.


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