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!

Navigating a Career in Science Communication

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Andy Ridgway, a Senior Lecturer and member of the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol, delivered the last Monthly Employability Seminar, titled ‘Navigating a Career in Science Communication’ before the closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has previously written for publications such as the BBC Focus magazine and New Scientist. This article is a summary of the session written by Joseph Myatt, a second year Biological Science student at UWE Bristol. 

The workshop demonstrated Andy’s appreciation for Science Communication, including the importance of approaching ideas creatively in order to translate the abstract science into everyday language. His passion for writing was also evident in that he continues to work as a freelance journalist, writing for various science publications in addition to his role as a Senior lecturer at UWE Bristol. This continued engagement with journalism has helped him to stay in touch with his interests as well as supporting student development. 

Andy presented himself as a true advocate for rethinking traditional ideas and embracing forward-thinking journalism; from his expressions, he showed a strong, clear moral compass. Andy also explained the importance of referring to reliable resources and making sure that, as a journalist, you communicate clearly to your audience but still keep the essence of the study you are referring to.  

We are all living in the age of communication. The internet, reservoir for the greatest collection of texts, data and ideas the world has borne witness to. Enabling the access to information 25 years ago only a library or professor would have been able to provide. Connecting populations, communities and individuals with previously unknown ideas. Communication of information is a cornerstone of civilisation. As Scientists and Theologians discover and hypothesise more about the universe around us, a greater importance falls on the shoulders of those who communicate these complex ideas to us.

The United Kingdom has a proud and nurtured history of communicating discoveries in the sciences. Michael Faraday, for example, was a key pioneering scientist who initiated the Christmas lectures at the Royal Institute, London in 1825, primarily to inspire children but also to communicate his research. Today, we have the internet, magazines, social media and television, which allows more people than ever before to access information online.  

‘Science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.’

Mark Walport

Science Communication has an impact on all members of society, whether it is by means of an interesting newspaper article or by providing essential information for decision makers of government policy. Science communicators, working for magazines, museums and in television, play key roles in the sciences, such as translating fresh science journals into an article in a different format that caters to the general public (i.e. non-scientists). They often take the notoriously difficult to understand scientific jargon, strip it back to the essential ideas and reconfigure, and present the information in a simple yet powerful and meaningful way.  I’m sure many of us in the sciences at university watched Bill Nye, Brian Cox or Carl Sagan when we were in school and nudged us towards inquiry into the sciences.

One of the key issues that has been widely debated in this field is poor journalism. One example mentioned by Andy was the controversial, although disproven, publication and reporting of a link (i.e. association) between the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The incorrect published data still has negative far-reaching effects despite being disproven. This reinforced Andy’s point that as Science Communicators, our work should be based on sound and statistically significant research as there can be unintended consequences, in this case being people not taking the vaccine, from the published work. Many of us would agree that journalism should therefore be viewed with an open mind, seeing both the good and bad, potential positive and negative consequences whilst ensuring we produce sound articles that benefit society. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In our journey through education, it is difficult to know what we want to do and our academic adventure often leads to unexpected destinations. Andy is a prime example of this. After a degree in Biology and Economics, he started writing for the BBC Focus magazine and described his experience with this magazine as his ‘most enjoyable work’. As students, we are given many options to choose from, which can become a problem where fear of choosing the wrong pathway can arise. However, Andy’s story can re-assure many people, especially students, that you will eventually find your way onto the right path. The key is to keep pursuing, reflecting and persistently aiming to obtain the career you desire. 

‘You’ll be fine. Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a deep breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.’

Louis C.K.

If you are considering a career in Science Communication or interested in this topic, these are the key messages that Andy shared from his session: 

  • Start your own blog. This can help you develop communication skills as well as build yourself a profile. Future employers will see this and will hopefully be impressed by it! For instance, your blog could be about Science; perhaps you could report on some of the latest science news. It could also be related to a completely different interest you have, e.g. baking, swimming, music or anything else. There is always a way to ‘sciencify’ any topic and put your own spin on it to keep you and your viewers interested. 
  • Go on a Placement year or Summer Internship. Going on a placement can be a great way to get experience in Science Communication and work out whether it is for you. Contact a Science Centre, Website, Podcast etc. and see if you can spend some time learning and gaining experience  from them. It could be only for a week, or even just a few days; a little exposure can give you a feel for what that type of work it is and whether it is for you! 

NB: Internship opportunities available at UWE Bristol through the UWE Internship Scheme (Follow this link for details)

  • Further Study. Doing a short course or further studies could also help advance your career pathway in Science Communication. There are several short courses in Science Communication and you also have the option of postgraduate study, such as an MSc, MRes or a PhD at UWE. These courses will help you develop the skills you need and the opportunities to start forming the connections in this industry. 

‘Ask yourself if what you’re doing today will get you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.’

Anonymous

Thank you for reading! We hope you enjoyed this article. 

Written by Joseph Myatt, Biological Science  (See profile on LinkedIn)  

Article edited by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu and Jessica Griffith 


From the editors: We are pleased to receive our first article written by an undergraduate student and we welcome contributions from staff, students and anyone who would like to contribute to our content about careers in the Sciences and STEM get in touch via email – ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk . You can also Connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter