New Job! STFC Astronomer

Life has been a little busy recently. The biggest news is that I now have a part time job at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG)!

My new badge, for the role of STFC Astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich

My new badge, for the role of STFC Astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich

My role is called “STFC Astronomer”, and I will be presenting Study Day “Masterclasses” to secondary school groups, and planetarium shows to both school groups and the public at the ROG. This is to do alongside my PhD, so it is for one (short) day a week, either 5 hours or 3.5 hours long, depending on the programme for that day, and only during term-time.

I have done one induction/training day and one normal day so far, and it’s been great. I know a little about how the organisation works because I volunteered there for two summers during my undergraduate degree, so it’s been lovely to see the astronomy team again, meet the new members and learn about where I will fit into the department. I have also been able to see how much I have grown as a science communicator since then; my time at the National Space Centre allowed me to develop my own style as a presenter, both in classrooms and planetariums, and I am pleased to be able to continue doing this alongside my PhD research.

There is a potential downside to doing this, which I had to consider carefully before applying, interviewing and taking the job; I am now guaranteeing that every Thursday during term-time I will not be at MSSL, working on my PhD research, or taking part in the seminars and group meetings that the Astro Group has on those days. Having less time during the week to work on my own project is something I will have to learn to balance, but I like having some structure to my time so I hope it will help make me more efficient on other days.

The main thing I will be missing are the seminars. These happen every Thursday except the last of the month, where we host a speaker from another university/research institute; they give a talk about their research and we take them out for lunch. I have enjoyed these over the last year because they give a chance to think about science that isn’t my own project, plus I can chat to the speaker and other members of the Astro Group over lunch and coffee. It is a shame that these happen on the same day that this role is needed at ROG, but neither can be moved and so I had to choose.

The Meridian Courtyard at Royal Observatory Greenwich

The Meridian Courtyard at Royal Observatory Greenwich

I am enjoying my PhD studies so far (as I hope you can tell from previous posts), so my hope is that this new role will enhance my current work, rather than take away from it. I know I will have to work hard to balance the two aspects, but I am looking forward to the challenge!

My supervisor has been very supportive, and actually so have all the academics at MSSL I have spoken to about this. Through a few of these conversations I have come up with some strategies to help make sure I don’t allow either my PhD or my job performance to slip in quality:

  • I must be strict about time management, this means:
    • Realistically I can’t do other outreach, this job, and my PhD if I want to do them all well. Therefore as I have chosen this job and my PhD, I must say no to other outreach opportunities from now on, however much I might want to get involved.
    • When I am at ROG I only do my work for there. When I am at MSSL I do only my PhD related work. This must be an absolute rule.
  • After 3 months I will look back and reflect on how that time has gone. I must be realistic and accept if I have made one or other a higher priority at the wrong time. I can learn from those (inevitable!) mistakes

The journey through a PhD can be frustrating, demoralising and seem never-ending, but I have to keep sight of the rewarding, exciting and fulfilling parts of it at all times. I came back to an academic role because I knew this and I want to do research. I do not know what I want to do after my PhD ends. I may choose to carry on research, I may choose to go back into science communication and engagement, or I may choose to do something entirely different.

I believe this job will help me develop and keep skills which will be of benefit, whichever of those routes I choose. Plus I will enjoy it! In the end, those are the two main reasons I wanted this job, and I believe they are the most important ones.

View of the ROG from Greenwich Park. Walking up this hill is good exercise!

View of the ROG from Greenwich Park. Walking up this hill is good exercise!

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