Sadie Jones is a passionate Outreach Leader who is elevating astronomers’ research impact and transferable skills as they communicate the wonders of space with the public. She has seen how outreach can excite both academia and its wider community through the coordination of the University’s popular mobile planetarium programme.
Sadie was raised in South Wales and was interested in computing and the arts in her youth. Inspired by striking images coming out of the Hubble Space Telescope, she saw the potential for creativity in a scientific career and chose to study Astrophysics at Cardiff University. Sadie trained as a Science Communicator during her undergraduate degree, explaining hands-on exhibits to adults and children in a part-time position at the city’s Science Discovery Centre, Techniquest.
Seeking a new challenge, she moved to England to undertake a PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Southampton in 2007. She investigated the properties of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the NGC 4051 galaxy and seized all the opportunities available to communicate her research with the public.
“I had a great experience during my PhD,” Sadie says. “There is a good atmosphere in Physics and Astronomy and I can see that the outreach and public engagement we do is really helping to build that sense of community. As I was coming towards the end of my studies, our Public Engagement Leader Pearl John took me under her wing and trained me up to talk about my research into black holes.”
Sadie found her experience as an Outreach and Teaching Assistant reinvigorating and used the extra energy to overcome the challenges of completing a PhD. “It was really refreshing to go into schools and see children get really excited by my research,” she explains. “It helped me realise why I was so lucky to be doing such novel research and it directed me towards an outreach and public engagement career.
“Any researcher interested in public engagement should definitely give it a go. It challenges you in ways that just staying in your office doing research will not. You will then return to your office reinvigorated, the feedback you get will make you think about your research in a totally different way. It will make you think about the wider implications of your research.”
Sadie describes public engagement as a “two-way process of joy”, as the public realise that the academics’ research is worthwhile and as a result think their taxes are going to good use, while the researchers receive a powerful morale boost. “It’s infectious when the public becomes excited by your research,” she says. “It gives you a lift.”
Today, Sadie manages and trains a team of PhD and undergraduate students who deliver outreach with the Soton Astrodome, a mobile planetarium that engages up to 150 schoolchildren every week in a series of interactive presentations. She also coordinates workshops and lectures on campus for different ages, while continuing her research into supermassive black holes. “My goal is to reach as many different audiences as possible,” she says.
Sadie believes her team’s activities offer a valuable opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs within Physics and Astronomy. “Staff and students who are looking on Future Worlds can gain transferable skills from doing public engagement and outreach,” she explains. “We can help you access different audiences and learn to develop your presentation skills. This will help you become more enterprising in the future. Doing outreach and public engagement will not only make you a more confident person but will also have a measurable impact on the participants, and this impact is especially important to academics contributing to the Research Excellence Framework (REF).”
Sadie is looking for new partners to support or sponsor her planetarium programme. “I’d love to hear from businesses or individuals with an interest in physics or astronomy who can see the potential of showing off their enterprise through positive engagement with the public,” she says. You can get in touch with Sadie using the contact form on this page.
In her spare time, Sadie enjoys travelling, running and playing netball. “The advice that I’d give to any student is to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything,” she adds. “Grasp all the opportunities that come your way, you might discover something you really love doing. I think in both research and life it is the things that we don’t expect that turn out to be the most exciting.”