I’m not someone who had a focus on astronomy from an early age. I studied math and science and did math at university. But I decided that I didn’t want to be a mathematician. I like to think in a more synthetic and synoptic way. And so I thought to be an economist at one stage, but then almost by chance I ended up enrolling as a graduate student in Cambridge and was assigned to a very inspiring supervisor and adviser who was in astronomy.
And after a year I realized that was a good decision. Not only because I had a wonderful mentor but also because this was a time in the mid 1960s when astronomy was opening up. For the first time you had evidence for black holes, that there was a big bang in the universe, and that we could understand how the universe evolved. It’s always good in a subject to be in at the beginning. Because then the old guys have no big advantage over the young guys, so you could make a mark fairly quickly. I was quite lucky in that sense.
But actually, what’s made me feel even luckier in my career is that the rate of discovery has not declined at all. Within the last few years we’ve had discovering planets around other stars, an entirely new field that makes the night sky far more interesting. Also gravitational waves from space and all kinds of things. So it’s a wonderful subject, whereas — and all this has advanced — the periphery has gotten longer and we can now address questions that couldn’t have even been posed 40 years ago.