Sheila – PhD student in Planetary Science

Ever dreamt of becoming an astronaut? Do all things involving spacecraft, planets and the solar system fascinate you? Read on and see if a PhD in Planetary Science is for you.

What attracted you to this job?

I want to be an astronaut and there are two routes to that path; military/pilot or academic. I am too short to be a pilot, so I thought I’d try the academic route instead.

What does your typical day involve?

Looking at new data from the Cassini spacecraft to learn more about Saturn and draw new conclusions about the saturnian system. Every day is different when you are a planetary scientist. Here at my lab we built one of the instruments on board the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn at the moment. Because we built it we get all the data, which means we get to look at results that no-one else has ever seen before! We analyse the data using computer programs, then draw conclusions from what we see. We present our work in scientific papers or we visit conferences and give talks. One of my favourite things about my work is that everything is pretty flexible, which means I can take days out of the lab so I can visit schools and give workshops about space, or teach the public to make planetary landers using eggs as the precious payload. Watch out, they normally get scrambled!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Knowing that my data is coming all the way from Saturn!! Also when I visit schools and if one person comes up to me after my visit and tells me that they want to be a scientist too, my work is done!

What do your friends and family think about your job?

They think I have the coolest job in the world and they all think I’m super smart even though that isn’t really true!

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

At the moment there is no balance as I am in my final year of my PhD so I have to put loads of time in to my work, but that is ok. Generally in my spare time I love travelling, scuba diving, hockey, tap dancing, music and gigs, as well as going out with friends and having lots of fun!

How did you get to where you are today?

I had a pretty standard route; GCSEs, A levels, uni, PhD but I also took two years off as gap years to travel and work all over the world. I’ve had physics placements in Russia and Australia already!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

Follow your dreams and work really hard if you want to achieve them. Do what makes you happy and the rest will come.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

PhD students get about £15k a year and if you get to becoming a professor you can earn about £50k a year.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

Sports, movies, music, travelling, cinema, all the usual suspects.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

A few! Some too painful to re-write here 😉