Photo:

Paul Roche

is on the BBC Wales website! http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/10412550.stm

Favourite Thing: Teaching people and seeing them finally understand something

My CV

School:

Lady Mary High School, Cardiff

University:

Southampton (BSc in Geophysics, PhD in Astronomy)

Work History:

I’ve worked for Southampton Uni, Sussex Uni, National Space Centre, Open University, Cardiff University and the Uni of Glamorgan

Employer:

Cardiff Uni and Uni of Glamorgan

Current Job:

Lecturer, National Schools’ Astronomer and (soon..) ESA Space Ambassador for Wales (no, seriously, that’s what the title will be…)

Me and my work

I’m an astronomer – I astronomise…

I teach at a university (Glamorgan), but I also do a lot of work in schools – I run something called the Faulkes Telescope Project (based at Cardiff University), and I am the UK’s National Schools’ Astronomer (an ancient title, which I invented in 2000 for a grant proposal…). FT is fun, as we control two large (2-metre) telescopes over the Internet – they are located in Hawaii and Australia, so we can do astronomy without all that staying-up-all-night nonsense. Just log in from anywhere with an Internet connection, and you can control a £5 million telescope for 30 minutes – not bad, for free…a lot of my time is spent working on educational projects these days, trying to find interesting ways to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects – I think using space as a “hook” is a great way to get people involved in all types of science.

My Typical Day

I teach people about life, the universe and (almost) everything

My kids think I spend all day on e-mail – which is only partially true… I do use e-mail a lot, to try and co-ordinate projects, keep in touch with the people I work with, chase up people who I need things from, and generally try to organise the chaos that is my “normal working day”. When I’m teaching, I’ll have a block of two 2 hour lectures for a few days each week, but during the rest of the year (we teach for about 24 weeks/year at uni) I’ll be busy trying to raise money for various educational projects that I run. I say “I run”, but in fact I spend a lot of time making sure other people are able to work on these projects – I’d like to spend more time actually doing stuff, but someone has to manage things, and I guess right now that’s me. I do get to spend a day or so each week working in schools though, which is great fun (especially primary schools!).

I don’t get to do too much actual science these days, but I have PhD students who do that stuff – I just get to pay all the bills…

In the evenings, I’m either taxi-ing Ben (15) or Cerys (13) to something/where, or going to the gym – I teach martial arts at a club up in the Valleys. After watching Ben do judo for the last ~5 years, I’ve just started training with his club – it’s absolutely knackering, but great fun – getting to squash/choke/crush your teenage son is very under-rated as a hobby…50kgs of extra mass can still overcome 5 years of training!

I guess my science career has moved on from the “doing science” bit, so that nowadays I’m more into the “managing other people so that they can do science while I raise the funds and make sure everything keeps working smoothly (most of the time)”. I love teaching, and try to make sure that my 1 day a week that I have to work on my STFC fellowship is spent in schools whenever possible. I get as much of a thrill working with infants on simple stuff like the Earth-Moon-Sun system and day-and-night, as with 6th formers on the lifecycle of a star. I really find this stuff fun, and I hope that I can convince school students that there really is some great science out there to get stuck into, whether it’s biology, chemistry, physics or some new bit of science we haven’t even got a name for yet…

What I'd do with the money

Buy some cool educational resources for schools, and blow whatever was left on a nice curry

Science in school can be really boring, so I like to take in some fun stuff to make it more exciting – so I’d use most of the money to buy stuff like air and water rockets (the sort that can reach 200m height) and fossilised dinosaur poo (coprolites – the most cool/gross stuff you can take into a primary school!). Whatever was left I’d use to buy a nice curry, or a Chinese…

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Not serious enough

Who is your favourite singer or band?

AC/DC (classic rock…) or the Foo Fighters if you want something more “modern”

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Apart from filling in this website form…? If I’m allowed to lie(!), I would definitely say it is taking part in “I’m a Scientist…” – but realistically, it was probably travelling around Australia for 3 weeks after I went out to use a telescope there. I went diving on the Barrier Reef, which was amazing.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

If they were just for me…more hair, less freckles, 10cm taller…

What did you want to be after you left school?

Something to do with sport or else in the police like one of my brothers, it sounds interesting/exciting and a bit different to being an astronomer

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not really, but I usually ended up getting blamed for stupid stuff that my mates did…

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I once spent an afternoon with Terry Pratchett, whilst filming a TV programme for BBC2 – he was the smartest, funniest bloke I’ve ever met, and really keen on astronomy. I spent about 2 hours alone with him, it was amazing! This isn’t really a “science” thing, but I’ve been able to meet lots of famous people as a result of being a scientist, so I think it counts. I’ve met various politicians (usually when asking for money or as part of the opening of some educational project or another), including Nick Clegg and David Milliband, plus I’ve spent an hour with Princess Anne in Warsaw, and have been lucky enough to meet lots of astronauts – now they are seriously cool people…my favourite “celeb” was Lemmy from Motorhead, and he wished me a happy new year (which was odd, as it was November…)

Tell us a joke.

“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life” (not really a joke I guess, but a clever quote from Terry Pratchett)