Can you really have a career in space? The answer is YES, and that’s the message I hope to spread through my STEM Ambassador work.
As a graduate only a year on in my career, at first, I felt inexperienced for an Ambassador, let alone advocating for an industry I haven’t established myself in. However, I felt the need for representation of both women in science and young people shooting for the stars was greater than my own imposter syndrome. So, if you are thinking of joining or are a STEM Ambassador, I encourage you to attend the great Student Space ambassador training led by UKSEDS as you’ll soon see what you can add to the narrative.
During my degree in Physics and Medical Physics, I discovered the world of space medicine, where research is used to support the health of astronauts exposed to the space environment and I hope to one day pursue a career in this field.
I took a risk in my final year, spending it designing an enclosure for microgravity surgery (because otherwise everything floats around, and it can get messy…) but this really paid off and winning prizes for it kickstarted my career. A highlight so far has been presenting this research at scientific conferences and meeting incredibly fascinating people working on keeping astronauts safe in space.
My favourite part of being a STEM Ambassador is the questions at the end of a presentation or talk, which range from “Are there aliens out there?”, through to “How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?”
This year I’ve had the honour of working with the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET), which runs Mission Discovery programs where school students hear from engaging lecturers at King’s College London, and even work with astronauts! The end goal is to design a space-worthy experiment and the winning idea is launched to the International Space Station. I loved working as a mentor on the program and was invited back to help build and test the seven experiments launching in March. There were some incredible designs from the students, but I’ll admit my favourite is the idea of sending wax worms that eat plastic to see if they’re behaviour changes when they’re floating around. Even space can inform work on recycling and sustainability.
Alongside this work, I’ve had the honour of going into schools with STEM Learning and leading sessions on everything from particle physics to early career tips and how to get to space! Many students don’t realise that our generation, the Artemis generation coined by NASA, will have unprecedented opportunities to get involved with humanity’s interplanetary dreams. Many jobs will be available with new commercial companies, big and small, pushing the space industry forward (Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin etc…).
My number one STEM Ambassador presentation is centred around highlighting the need for people from all sorts of backgrounds to be involved if we are to build moon or Mars villages. People living off the earth will, of course, need scientists, doctors and engineers, but they will also need teachers, builders and hairdressers, so no career aspirations are incompatible with also being an astronaut. I too want to get to space one day, but before that, I am passionate about advocating for the many ways to get involved and contribute to the science, engineering, art or architecture of future space missions.
My favourite part of being a STEM Ambassador is the questions at the end of a presentation or talk, which range from “Are there aliens out there?”, through to “How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?” So, if you came for some answers, suffice to say for the question about aliens, there are roughly 10 billion Earth-like planets orbiting a star like our sun in our galaxy alone, and I’ll leave you to calculate the odds on one of those planets hosting some kind of organism.
The second question is more relevant than you might think as it highlights the unique engineering challenges involved when we lose gravity, which in this case is resolved with a suction system (and over 80% of the water is filtered and recycled!). Of course, someone always asks “How can I become an astronaut?” As most space travellers will tell you, the best way to become a space agency astronaut is to follow your passion and work hard. There are now many routes to space, through the military, as pilots or most of all STEM fields! And to add to these, soon anyone will be able to jump on a tourist sub-orbital flight or holiday to the International Space Station (for only $50 million) and receive their astronaut wings.
You never know where your aspirations will take you
I hope to inspire both children and parents to realise that an aerospace career can be a reality for them, and these dreams can come true, no matter how unusual. I always tell students the future is full of possibility, they may end up in a job that doesn’t currently exist. If you aim for the stars, even if you miss you could still end up on the moon.
Being an aspiring space farer has also brought me opportunities I never thought possible, such as volunteering at the science museum and most recently starring in an Adidas London campaign for the shoes they are sending to the Space Station. It was an amazing and different experience for me, but I knew it was unique and took the opportunity to spread my message during the improvised voiceover, so hopefully young girls dreaming of space can be taken seriously. I was honoured to be given such a platform and have loved speaking to the amazing students who have since been in touch.
Thank you for sharing in my journey, if you are interested in more, I love promoting STEM outreach on my twitter (@Astrosurgery) and am always looking for opportunities to get involved.
We are currently supporting the UK space sector to deliver 1,000,000 interactions per year with young people. Working with the UK Space Agency, ESERO-UK and the Careers and Enterprise company, STEM Ambassadors can join the ‘One Million Interactions’ programme and help raise the awareness of careers in space.