What do you do?
I have a few different hats when it comes to my work. As a scientific researcher, I prepare and conduct astronomical observations using world-leading observatories and I write computer codes to extract the useful information from these observations and to analyse them. My overall goal in doing this is to learn more about how stars and their planets form and evolve. As a science communicator, I organise and run star gazing nights with local community groups, I give talks to groups like astronomy societies, the WI and U3A, and I provide interactive demos at festivals such as Big Bang South West and Exeter Pride. And as an advocate for improving equity, diversity and inclusion within STEM, I run PRISM Exeter which is a network for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies working and studying within the local STEMM sectors.
Why did you choose this field?
I don't even think I knew being a scientist was a thing when I was a kid. Instead, I was always encouraged to learn. My parents advice to me was to stay in education as long as possible - I don't think they thought I'd end up taking them this literally! I had narrowed my choices down to pursuing physics (as that was how I would be able to study space) or history at university and it was the promise that physics would open more doors (in terms of employment) to me that helped me to make the decision that I did.
As for why I was interested in space in the first place, I think that's a combination of the stories of the constellations and also the sense of wonder when peering out the car window at the stars during the early nights of winter in the UK.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
For a long time - up to my mid 20s - there was always a part of me that felt like I had to keep a part of me to myself. It is only within the last 4 or 5 years that I have gotten to know successful, "out" LGBTQ+ people in STEMM. And that's all thanks to the achievement of "LGBT STEM" in making an online community of visible LGBTQ+ STEMM researchers and organising the annual LGBTSTEMinar series.
Why do you love working in STEM?
It's that sense of endeavour - of working something out - and sharing that knowledge with other people. And that buzz of sharing that knowledge with people who share that interest who you can bounce ideas off. I still get that childish giddy feeling of excitement when I think I (or we) might be on to something.
Best advice for next generation?
Join the "women in" networks (and other networks that exist for under-represented minority groups where applicable). There's a somewhat comfortable normality about being the only girl sometimes which can reinforce this idea that there's a uniqueness to our interests - that somehow this is what makes us interesting or special. And this can make us somewhat protective of that status. It's important to be wary of that and to remember that that insecurity/sensitivity is common. We're much better when we're honest with one another and work together.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
"When it's raining, look for rainbows; when it's dark, look for stars.” (I admit it's a little airy-fairy but it's nice all the same!)