Maggie Aderin-Pocock: life as a scientist

Maggie Aderin-Pocock speaks about her life as a scientist. She describes why she became interested in science in her childhood, her hobbies outside of work, the opportunities that her work has brought, and why people should become scientists.

People often ask me, ‘You’re a black dyslexic kid from a broken home in London.  How come you’re so interested in space?’  And I think it’s because of a number of things.  The first one is the Clangers.  I fell in love with the Clangers when I was probably about three years old and they live actually in space, so I wanted to go and visit them.  And also at the time I was growing up, people had just landed on the moon and a space race was going on, so it was in the news all the time.  So there was like an attraction there.  But looking further as I was growing up, I think being a black kid in London; London is very multicultural, but when I went to school I often felt I didn’t really fit in.  I wasn’t – I wasn’t really a proper Nigerian ‘cause I’d never been there, and my relatives will say, ‘Maggie, you’re a lost Nigerian.’  But when I went to school, if I said I was British or English they’d say, ‘You’re not British.  You’re black.’  And so I felt I didn’t really fit into either camps.  And space was that wonderful thing that transcended all of that because, when you look at the planet earth from space, there are no countries, there are no boundaries, we’re just one people.  And there were also wonderful programmes like Star Trek where people from lots of different countries were all battling the aliens, and I really fancied that [laughs]. [1:11]  All my life I’ve wanted to be a scientist and I’ve sort of gone to university and degree, PhD, and I’ve become a scientist and I love it, but I do other things in my life.  There’s the science communication, which I think is brilliant, speaking to people about science.  But I’ve got a daughter of three years old and one of the things we love doing is baking.  Unfortunately after she was born I got a dairy allergy, so before I could go to a bakery and buy a cake but I just can’t do that anymore, so instead I bake them at home [laughs].  And it’s really good fun because there’s a certain amount of science in baking.  It’s almost like mixing chemicals and you combine things to get different flavours and different results.  And so we like experimenting in the kitchen.  It can be very messy.  So I love doing that but there’s other things I enjoy doing outside the science.  I love movies, movies of any sort, especially black and white movies.  So we watch – I’m looking forward to the time when my daughter’s a little older and we can start going to the cinema together, but I enjoy films very much.  And just getting out into the countryside.  When we – we travel around the country a lot giving talks and my daughter travels with me, which is brilliant, but when we do we often go and visit swing parks and sort of different things in the different areas.  Aquariums, I’ve been to a lot of aquariums and so has she.  So we just go and see the highlights of the local area and we both enjoy that a lot. [2:32]  When I became a scientist I had a very particular goal in mind; I wanted to get out into space and I still do.  But a career in science has enabled me to do things which I would have never dreamed possible.  I’ve stood on a mountain in Chile and seen my moon shadow as we gathered data in a telescope.  I’ve been able to help in one of the biggest problems that we’re fighting today, climate change, and develop instrumentation that will help us understand the climate and hopefully help solve the problem.  But I’ve also seen – I’ve been to places like Cambodia and seen kids with their limbs blown off and known that I’ve been just a – played a small part in helping solve the problems of landmines.  So I get to travel all over the world and meet some pretty fantastic people, and this is all because of a career in science.  So I think I’m incredibly lucky. [3:26]  Sometimes people are surprised when I say I’m a black female scientist, ‘cause they don’t think black people or people from ethnic minorities or females go into science.  But they’re so wrong.  To me what makes a scientist is being inquisitive; it’s wanting to know things and understand things.  So if you’re that sort of person, if you’re inquisitive and you want to know more, science is the perfect job.  And although in the past it has been sort of quite male dominated, and it still is, what I find is, when I’m working with people, at first they think, oh, she’s not one of us, but when you start doing the science it sort of transcends those barriers.  We’re working together to solve a problem, to discover something, to do some good.  And then you forget about all the rest and you focus on the science.  So if you want to – if you’re that way inclined and you’re thinking of being a scientist, come and do it because it’s a fantastic job.

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