Devastated! Tried to drown sorrows in coffee and biscuits, but the biscuits were on the top shelf and I couldn't reach...
I did GCSEs, Science A-levels, then degree and doctorate. The boring route – but if you slog through it, it can get you where you want to be.
9GCSEs, 4 A-Levels, Physics degree, Master’s degree in Instrumentation Systems, DPhil in Atmospheric Physics. I liked being a student – you get loads of discounts.
I’ve worked as a waitress in a restaurant, at clothes stores, a newsagent, packing toys in a warehouse. I’ve done telephone fundraising for charities, been an extra in tv shows, worked on a bungee site and done more teaching than you can shake a very long stick at. Then I finished my DPhil and got my current job. It’s much better than the rest.
Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic & Planetary Physics, Oxford University
Systems Engineer/Post-Doctoral Research Associate
Me and my work
I design, build and test space instruments for planetary missions.
When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut. I wrote to NASA: “Dear NASA, I am eight and I want to be an astronaut…”
They sent me an application form.
I have never been quite as excited at any other point in my life. From a process of elimination I figured that I could either do Physics/Engineering or be a Military Pilot or be a Medical doctor. I really hate the sight of blood so I tried to cover the other bases, learnt to fly and got a Physics degree.
Later, I decided I wasn’t going to be an astronaut. Mainly because I was too short. But I still liked to idea of sending stuff into space, and enough people told me that girls don’t make good engineers that I had to prove them wrong.
I love that my job can be so different. I can be programming, designing instruments, putting things together and testing them, looking at data. Sometimes it’s just like playing with lego but on a bigger scale and then they actually fly the stuff into space! The deadlines can be ridiculous and there is always too much work and not enough of us to do it, but it’s always satisfying.
My Typical Day
Starts at my desk checking email, then can take me through labs, mechanical workshops, allsorts. Every day is different!
Yesterday was a typical day. After checking email and making sure I was up-to-date on all the missions, deadlines and tasks needed for the projects we’re working on, I went down to our Optics Lab to measure some filters for a satellite that’s being sent to orbit Mars. I set up the instruments, measured how much and what kind of light they let through, then emailed the data to myself.
After that, I went back to my computer to write a program to look at the data and plot some graphs. I took the graphs to the head of the group and we discussed the results and what to do about the bits that weren’t working the way we wanted. We made a brief plan and then talked to the people who had helped make the filters.
We went out for lunch and talked about what we might do as we ate. We came up with another plan and then came back to write it up so everyone knew what to do.
Some days I’m in the lab all day, measuring things or putting them together. Other days I have to travel to different places to talk to the people we work with and to deliver the things we’ve made. This can be anywhere in the world. Last week I went to Guildford. Next month I’m going to California. My favourite trip so far was to a telescope on a mountain in Arizona.
It was gorgeous, and on the way back we got to stop at Joshua Tree National Park and go climbing.
What I'd do with the money
I’d use it to put together information packs on my department’s research work and Engineering careers to give to schools and students when I go to visit them and give talks.
Whenever I go to schools to give talks or to public lectures, people are always interested in what I do but there are always those that are too shy to ask questions. For those people, it would be nice to be able to give them something to take home and read about in their own time.
I found when I was at school that I really had to work hard to find the right people to talk to about the career I wanted. Google makes things a lot easier, but having information on helpful public organisations would be useful, as well as where to go for further information.
Also, I used to have a poster of a space shuttle on my wall that I’d look at to remind me of what I was working for when the schoolwork got difficult or dull. It’d be nice to give an interested child something that would make them feel inspired in the same way, as well as something that makes them keep thinking about the subject long after they’ve gone home.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Far too short
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Right now, Lana Del Rey – I love “Kinda Outta Luck”
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Flying planes. Or maybe bungee-jumping. Or swimming in a hot spring in Iceland. I can’t choose.
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
All the time
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
I designed and built a cooler to cool down a mini-seismometer to about -120 degrees Celsius because that’s the temperature it would see when measuring earthquakes on the surface of Mars. And I fixed a broken ankle clasp from my shoes with a Leatherman on a night out. That was more immediately satisfying.
Tell us a joke.
What’s red and stands in the corner? A naughty bus.
This is the rig I designed to test mini-seismometers. They’re used to measure vibrations like earthquakes. These ones should be going to Mars at some point.