So I recently finished reading James Smith’s book – ‘Not a diet book’; I say ‘reading’, I actually listened to it in my car in audio book form. But as far as I am concerned that is still reading ok!
I consumed this book very quickly, mainly I listened to it while going at 50 mph on the drive back and for to roller derby training in Portsmouth ( the M27 is becoming a smart motorway so this journey now takes one hour instead of 35 minutes). I took so many things away from this book, specifically the ‘calorie f***ing deficit’ mantra, but another thing that really stuck with me is the importance of having a daily goal, something that you do every day.
You don’t have to do ‘the thing’ particularly well, but the important thing is you do it, and do it repeatedly!
In the book James talks about sending his, now famous, daily emails; in the beginning perhaps no-one was reading them and in the beginning they probably weren’t any good. But obviously by doing this every day alongside his other media posts, something has clicked, because he now has a really big following and people do actually read those emails; well I know I do.
I really enjoyed writing a daily blog about our adventures while I was on the Aurora Quest research expedition this January. I’ve always had the dream of being a writer, and ideally I would write a book, but at the moment I feel like I have too many ideas and I don’t know what that book would be on. So, it feels most natural right now to just to write about my daily thoughts and life (also I have some extra time right now because Covid-19 has meant all my work events/trips have been cancelled).
I have always felt it was in my soul to write, it is part of who I am and it’s possibly why I have so many beautiful notebooks scattered about my house and hidden in the bottom of rucksacks, all waiting to be filled up with my crazy thoughts on all the things.
I found writing something every day during the expedition was actually very good for me mentally, it really focused my thoughts from that day. Now my thoughts were out of my brain and on the ‘page’ they gave me a feeling of clarity and my brain felt less crowded.
So… with all this being said I have decided to take James’ advice and make a daily goal.
For me, the goal is to write something here, everyday, it won’t always be long, it won’t always be sensical or informative, but I WILL do it!
Ever since I had my first taste of being a ‘science performer’ at Bright Club last month I have caught the bug for performance art. I have really started to believe that I can actually be entertaining; I can be more than just someone who gives talks about their astrophysics research. This is a new and exciting concept to me. Even though I have been in the science communication game since 2006, I have never really thought of myself as an entertainer. But now I believe. I can’t wait to show off my Welsh accent to the world.
I have secretly dreamed of being a Blue Peter presenter since I was a kid, Helen Skelton is my idol, mainly ‘cos she is kickass and does crazy challenges, but, yes, up until now this presenter dream has been kept secret. But, now I feel an awakening, and as a result I have already signed up to try my stand up set again at the Science Standoff in July.
My potential talent for entertainment has not gone unnoticed, and since my ‘success?’ at Bright Club and my ‘energetic and enthusiastic attitude’ I was asked to be the announcer at the last game that my roller derby team played in June. Also, on the day following that game I actually ended up being interviewed on TV! I had just roller skated 30 miles around Goodwood Motor Circuit to fundraise for my team and I was very sweaty and tired, but still, I managed to say something coherent that got me on BBC South Today.
Skills I bring:
Over 56,000 people have been reached by astronomy outreach and public engagement events that I have managed. Most of these events have involved the incredibly popular Soton Astrodome Mobile Planetarium. In 2013 I was successfully awarded funds from the Education Enhancement Fund to purchase a second larger dome and at every subsequent Stargazing Live! event we have ran both astrodomes to meet the high demand for our shows.
I have worked with several external partners over the years to offer free astronomy planetarium events to public audiences. The sheer popularity of these events and the fact that they are staffed by such an experienced and enthusiastic team means we are frequently asked to return. I have managed events on several occasions at Southampton City Art Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre, Sea City Museum, Winchester University, Bournemouth University, Portsmouth University, The National Big Bang Fair, Big Bang South, CARFest, BBC’s Regional Stargazing Live! Event and Paulton’s Park & Peppa Pig World and I still have contacts at all of these places for the future.
I have fully managed seven SEPnet public engagement astronomy stands at Cheltenham Science Festival, Bestival and Glastonbury Music Festivals where myself, and my team have collectively engaged over 19,000 people with astronomy research. All these events have been in full collaboration with the UoS ‘Bring Research to Life’ Roadshow, which is run by the Public Engagement with Research Unit (PERu). PERu drafted me in to manage a zone at our annual Science and Engineering Day in March. I still work closely with them and will work with them again at the Human Worlds Festival this November. In Spring 2016, I ran a hugely successful ‘AstroAirport’ public engagement event at Southampton Airport. I was awarded £7.3k from the STFC to engage a new audience with Supernova research. My team and I spoke about the research with over 4,500 airport passengers across four days.
I have a catalogue of three talks that I offer to schools, colleges, and the public. The first two talks are based on my PhD research, called ‘A mysterious Supermassive Black Hole’ and ‘Radio Astronomy’ and the third is called ‘Aliens in the Universe’. I have presented these talks more than 70 times to a wide variety of audiences, these include local astronomy societies, A-level colleges, the Women’s Institute, and Winchester Science and Discovery Centre. In July I will be presenting my black hole talk at Winchester Science Festival.
Each year I run an Astrodome Training Day, which is attended by more than 15 PhD and Undergraduate students. I pride myself on my ability to create a good team atmosphere, and hold regular team meetings, and award events for #OurGreatestTeam (yes, we stole the hashtag from the 2012 Olympics). I am very passionate about promoting the fact that working in a strong outreach team not only improves presentation and social skills, but also improves the mental wellbeing of the students who do the outreach. My experiences tackling the mental health challenges I encountered during my PhD are the basis for my Bright Club set. I got through my #PhdWoes by doing outreach, and it is very close to my heart to encourage others to do the same; to use public speaking and humour to help them science!
As part of my desire to work with disadvantaged groups, last year, I volunteered to work with The Princes Trust & Techniquest Discovery Centre. Together we came up with a program of work to engage disadvantaged young people who are part of the ‘Fairbridge residential program’. I ran a training day for the Fairbridge centre staff and provided them with learning resources.
Skills I want to develop:
I would really like to develop my comedy writing and comedy timing. I want to become better at camera work too, I am ok when talking to an actual person but as soon as there is a camera something happens to me which is not good. I would also like to work on not playing with my hair and reducing the number of times I say ‘Um’. Also, several people have told me that I need to be ‘introduced to the full stop’. So I would like to know when to just pause and how to speak slower. I just want to be a really awesome entertainer, and I have suddenly got such a thirst for learning about performance art. I know I have a lot to learn, but I also have a lot to offer. AND, I feel very enthused about this journey…It feels just like the time I first saw Sister Act, and then I instantly wanted to become a Nun, you know ‘cos of Whoppi Goldberg, and all the singing!
I really love my job, and we do so much exciting astronomy research here that I never run out of things to discuss with people. I organise events like our Stargazing Live! Evening events on campus and our #AstroAirport event in the departure lounge of a local airport and I also manage our school visits with the ‘Soton Astrodome’ mobile planetarium. I started a PhD and then got a job in outreach and public engagement. My PhD research was on Radio and X-ray Astronomy and specifically focused on the supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy called NGC 4051.
Why is it interesting?
NGC 4051 is a really interesting galaxy, it is very ‘active’ which means it is very bright when viewed through X-ray telescopes and it varies a lot. Based on it’s galaxy type you would not expect to see jet emission from near the supermassive black hole. However, when we used a radio telescope called the Very Large Array (VLA) we could in fact see evidence of a jet. So, a large part of my PhD thesis involved analysing data from this galaxy, and that of similar smaller mass black holes in an effort to understand why we saw jet emission where we did not expect to.
What got you into (your science)?
As a teenager I can remember wanting to be many things, my job aspirations changed on a monthly basis. I am not one of these people who has always dreamed of being an astronomer, I did not actually look through a telescope till I started my PhD here, in my early 20s. I have always found space really cool, of course, but along with dreams of being an astronaut or a pilot I also had played with the idea of becoming a Nun (like in Sister Act, with all the singing and Whoopi Goldberg as my best friend), a hair dresser, a graphic designer, an interior designer, a fashion designer and a web designer. I chose my A-levels Physics, Maths, Computing and Art with the idea of becoming one of the later, more creative careers. However, my Physics and Maths teachers were amazing and they made me realise how cool science was. I realised there were actually so many jobs related to Physics that I could do, and given I wasn’t that great at art a Physics degree seemed a better choice for me. I didn’t realise as a teenager that with a Physics degree you can actually aspire to be much more than a teacher or a scientist. Now, I realise that I did kind of become a mixture of both of those job personally, but I am very happy about this, and don’t regret this for a second! However, many of my friends who did Physics degrees with me have gone on to work in a variety of careers e.g. Engineering, Finance, Big Data, Medical Physics etc.
And finally, a fun fact about you…
I have recently taken up roller derby and after passing my minimum skills test in March 2017 I am now a member of the B Team with the Portsmouth Roller Wenches. It’s such a fun sport, you get to roller skate, meet amazing friends and get your aggression out in a constructive and competitive way. It’s one of the only sports where there are more women competing than men and I’m absolutely loving meeting all these strong, ambitious women and seeing them compete in this very physical sport, also being in a female dominated environment is not something I am used to working in a Physics department, so it’s a really nice change!