Outreach Leader in Astronomy

What do you do?

I currently work in astronomy and astrophysics outreach and public engagement, 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 Southampton Airport and I also manage our school visits with the ‘Soton Astrodome’ mobile planetarium. I started a PhD here at the University of Southampton in 2007 and then got a job as the Outreach Leader in Astronomy in 2012. 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 am hoping to pass my minimum skills tests and start training with the Portsmouth Roller Wenches very soon. 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!

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