Up and Beyond the Labs | From UWE to Space

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Piotr has written yet another excellent article to explore another dimension of science; space. Many scientists dream of doing things on Earth, but if you are interested in expanding your scope and exploring your curiosity, have a read of this article as you begin your scientific journey in space.

The beginning

Biology and Space. Here we go! Launching in 3…2…1…

There is a wide array of disciplines and research areas within biological sciences, and, naturally, there are plenty of career paths that concern themselves with everything earthly. However, there is also yet another path, one that can lead you closer to space and to what may be waiting beyond our habitable planet. Like myself, you may be wondering how one gets from a biology-related course to working in astrobiology or for European Space Agency. Therefore, I will share what I have gleaned from attending January’s Employability Event, From UWE to Space, where Dr Nicol Caplin, Deep Space Exploration Scientist at ESA, shared her own experience in her science journey.

Photo by Richard Gatley from unsplash.

Biology and Space?

A few years ago, I learned about astrobiology for the first time. Any scientist that was described as an astrobiologist appeared to me as some sort of mistic who somehow managed to obtain the title and knowledge that seemed to be imparted within. At the time, I heard little about the discipline, yet I found it intriguing, and I have checked if there is any university offering an undergraduate course in it, yet to no avail. Nowadays, there are still very few dedicated astrobiology courses. However, there are several fascinating PhD programs across the globe. I sometimes happen to mention that I would like to work as an astrobiologist to my friends or family, and what I sometimes hear back spans from ‘Oh, you would like to meet and talk with aliens?’ to my father enquiring about ‘the alien base on the dark side of the moon’ of which he has been informed of its existence by scientists on one of those pseudoscientific documentary series one can find on TV. I then go on to explain what it is that I would most likely do, and a whole new interesting conversation takes place.

Photo by Donald Giannatti form unsplash.

Branching out in science

Astrobiology is a multidisciplinary scientific field and whether you study biological sciences, astronomy, chemistry, or geology, you may be able to find your own niche in this area of work. Nicol studied Environmental Sciences, taking particular interest in plants and radioactivity, and little she knew, she would end up working for European Space Agency (ESA). Unknowingly at the time, certain steps she undertook, enabled her to pursue that path.

Whether you have already set your eyes on the sky and what is beyond, or you’re still searching for what you want from your life and career, I think that Nicol could not stress enough the benefit of making the best of the time you have to complete your degree. Internships were one of the recommendations she made as an option during summertime, as they provided her with invaluable experience. Being interested in plant-related science, she completed an internship with Soil Association, an organic farming charity, in her first year and then with Plant Impact, an agrochemical company in the second year. Another option you might like to consider for your summer is The Summer Scheme, an opportunity to participate in an 8 week summer internship. Not only it will give you a chance to build your skill and confidence, but it is also a paid internship.

Nicol also mentioned another aspect of her career, namely science communication. When studying her PhD, she has decided to pick the Science Communication module, which is great in relation to astrobiology – astrobiology is often a controversial topic, quite complex in its nature and the ability to deliver it to the general public is especially important. Nicol mentioned exciting projects she partook in, among others, Q&A video for school children- Space Rocks, which involved science communication efforts in association with ESA, employing artists and figures from media; and Star Trek convention, where she delivered a presentation about ESA and astrobiology.

Photo by Patrick T’Kindt from unsplash.

Your journey

When it comes to getting your first experience working with European Space Agency (ESA), there are internship opportunities you can read about on ESA’s website, such as ESA Young Graduate Trainees or National Traineeships. However, bear in mind that due to their competitive nature, you may have higher chances to get your spot having completed or nearing completion of a Master’s degree. I do like to think that it is not a rule that is set in stone, and that if there is a brilliant enough mind, they will be able to land their place at such an internship even earlier. Nonetheless, it is certainly an option to consider later as an undergraduate student or aspiring professional.

I have reached out to Nicol after the talk, and she got back to me with a few more tips, putting some of my worries to rest. When starting a degree, especially through a Foundation Year, the prospect of completing it seems dauntingly distant. Nicol reassured me by saying that she herself began her studies with Foundation Year, and similarly to myself, was first in her family to access Higher Education. Being proactive and searching for opportunities throughout the whole studying period will likely yield benefits to those who invest their time and energy.

Photo by Greg Rakozy from unsplash.

Final Thoughts

Considering that astrobiology is so broad, getting experience in many areas will allow you to later put the transferable skills you have gained to your advantage and improve your standings in recruiters’ eyes. Even if you do something that seems unrelated to astrobiology itself, like joining carting or poetry club, or a blogging team, you may still gain skills that could be translated into future roles, such as team working, team management, writing and presentation skills, etc. There are also societies and clubs outside of university that may align with your interests and which you may wish to join, and they are all but an online search away.

If you find yourself not knowing much about astrobiology, or you know someone who is eager to know more, have a look at the following astrobiology primer from NASA: https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/education/primer/ . It outlines current pursuits within the field and is directed at a young scientist who may be interested in this fascinating aspect of science.

Thank you for reading.

Written by Piotr Sordyl

Hello, my name is Piotr (I can assure you it is not as difficult to pronounce as it may seem) and I am a mature, international student on Foundation Year Biological Sciences course. I am originally from Poland, however, Bristol has been my home for over 7 years now (which sometimes makes me stagger when asked where I am from).


I take great pleasure in weaving tales, and so I have been writing and working on ideas for novels. I am interested in neuroscience, zoology, astrobiology, planetary science, to name a few and I intend to use the knowledge gained through my studies to write books, popularizing it to a wider audience.


I run roleplay games sessions for my friends, collaboratively telling stories that become alive in our shared imagination. I am also an aspiring violinist, learning how to take my first steps.

From the editors: Thank your taking the time to read this excellent article from Piotr, a great summary of one of the DAS Monthly Employability seminars. We hope this has piqued your curiosity and expanded your awareness of how much you can do in the sciences.

Please do share with those you think need some inspiration and reach out to us if you would like to share one of your interest on this blog platform. You can get in touch with us via email – ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk and also connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Enjoy your Easter holiday and see you next time!

Sciences Futures 2020 : Post Event Highlights (Part 1)

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Science Futures returned in 2020 and this year’s event was by far the biggest and the best of the annual Department of Applied Sciences (DAS) employability programme at UWE Bristol. The event was focused on engaging students with opportunities for internships, placements and graduate employment and developing the next workforce generation of our society. During this event, students were given privileged opportunities to listen to experts (including DAS alumni and recent graduates) discuss their career journeys and experiences, engage with the employer exhibition and be present during various panel discussions.

The event was opened by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu, DAS Employability Leader, followed by the welcome address from the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences, Dr Marc Griffiths.  He did an excellent job of welcoming the guests, expressing his passion for being in the sciences and discussed the importance of employability to the University and the Faculty, and why students and delegates needed to take advantage of the opportunities at Science Futures 2020; this set the tone for the rest of the day.

First Keynote Speaker – Dr Sabrina Roberts, Senior Scientific Policy Officer, Food Standards Agency (UK)

The welcome address was followed by the keynote talk by Dr Sabrina Roberts, who delivered an incredible talk on ‘Managing GM Regulations in the UK: From a Bioscience Degree to Informing Global policy’ which included highlights of her career journey, dealing with disabilities, impostor syndrome and changing courses mid-way through her degree. The feedback from the students about her talk was great and they found her to be inspirational, and great to talk to where she shared her wealth of experience and nuggets of wisdom.

Dr Sabrina Roberts at Science Futures 2020

Some key points from her talk included:

  • Finding a career that fits your passion: this is achieved by consistent self-development, a hard work ethic and commitment to your dreams, doing all that is required to reach them (from the careful selection of a dissertation topic and supervisor, to the development of your CV). But along this journey, as Dr Roberts pointed out, it is important to “have something else” – a hobby, fun activity etc., not only for personal fulfilment and happiness, but also as a way of standing out from the rest of the crowd, showing off your uniqueness to your potential future employers.
  • Join a professional society: this can be a key component in accelerating your personal and career development in a number of ways.
  • Networking and making new connections: it is important to identify people you can learn from and have as potential contacts for the future; this also brings the idea of creating and sharing your business cards ( yes, this is a thing!). Conferences often encompass insightful talks, presentations  (providing you with a wider perspective of your chosen field), networking sessions where you would have opportunities to find a mentor (to help you get to where you want to be) – and the list goes on!

Finally, to close this talk, Dr Roberts emphasised on the importance of presenting yourself well at all times, in speech and deed!

Her final comments were “Climb to where you are happiest, but do not forget to reach down and help others up to where you are” and more importantly… “love what you do!”

Second Keynote Speaker – Solomia Boretska, CEO and Co-Founder of Tempo Market. Also, UWE and DAS graduate (2016)

Solomia Boretska at Science Futures 2020

The second keynote speaker was a recent UWE  graduate Solomia Boretska who graduated from Biomedical Science in 2016 and is now the CEO and Co-Founder of Tempo Market. As a speaker, she was engaging, dynamic and had everyone glued to their seats. She spoke about her journey navigating through life in and out of science, struggling to find jobs and using that as her driver for learning how to code. Her company focuses on providing a rental, repair service for camping equipment, and as she describes on her LinkedIn page “Tempo is building the industrial shift to products as a service through product rentals”.

Solomia offered advice to students to:

  • Chase people down and show them your passion: this bold act of chasing people down highlights the need for you to be audacious! This will help you stand out from the competition.
  • Let your actions match the passion you are expressing: so, if you are showing interest in working for someone, be engaged in research and news around that area of interest i.e. go the extra mile; this will help you to be recognised as a candidate who is serious about what they want.
  • For scientists and students struggling with the fear of rejection, Solomia suggests that you“think of a ‘no’ as a hypothesis – one that is to be tested rather than accepted as the absolute truth”. Hence, even if you receive a ‘no’, don’t give up there, work on what you need to do so that next time you yield a ‘yes’.
  • Be open to new opportunities: sometimes, the door that you want does not open. However, that is not to say that there isn’t potentially a better opportunity that you may have not considered before, therefore, be open-minded to working in an unfamiliar field of work.

The students found Solomia Boretska to be a great example to learn from, her confidence, presentation and delivery. According to many students who heard her speak, she was inspirational.

Exhibition

Dr Emmanuel Adukwu, Solomia Boretska and Dr Amara Anyogu (Co-founder, Aspiring Professionals Hub & Academic) at Science Futures 2020

This year’s Science Futures was a great opportunity for students and staff to engage the visiting exhibitors and to network with people from basic sciences to careers beyond the sciences. This was the biggest exhibition of the futures fair with near 50 exhibitors with top UK organisations including the Department of Education (Get Into Teaching), Environment Agency, Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), NHS Blood & Transplant (NHSBT), Clinical Professionals, Society of Cosmetic Scientists, National Careers Service and the Intellectual Property Office

The exhibitors also included programme leaders from different disciplines across UWE Bristol. The programmes included; MSc Biomedical Science, MSc Environmental Health, MSc Forensic Science, MSc Science Communication, MSc Physician Associate Studies, MSc Public Health, MSc Rehabilitation, and Secondary Science PGCE.

If you want to learn more about these programmes, you can click on any of the links provided. If you didn’t get a chance to network or attend – it’s not too late! Check out the ‘Careers Fair Plus app‘ to find out more about the employers and their details.

Upcoming article: Part 2!

Our next article will distill the discussions from the panel sessions at the Science futures 2020 which would be important for those seeking advice on which career routes to pursue… stay tuned!

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it with others. Also, if you have an article or topic you would like to share with us, do contact us at ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk

Written by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu and Jessica Griffith

All images were taken by Kane Smith (Undergraduate student, Faculty of Environment and Technology, UWE Bristol)