She is an Astronomer: How many years since you got your maximum degree?
Mandy Bailey: 2 years. I'm now a PhD student. I'm in the first year of my PhD and feel under an avalanche of work a lot of the time. However, it is exciting and very challenging and I have a lot of support at the university form my supervisor and others. The opportunities I have to further my knowledge and experiences are many.
SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?
MB: Out of 23 people in our astrophysics group 5 are women so whereas it is nowhere near a 50 – 50 split I think it is a better divide than most institutions. Of the 5 women; one is staff, one is a post doc and the other three are PhD students.
SIAA: What is your family status?
MB: Divorced; one teenage son.
SIAA: Have you had any career breaks? Did you find the return to work particularly difficult?
MB: I have totally changed my career. After over 20 years of working in a financial environment I took the opportunity when my son was born to go back to study and back to the physics and astronomy I had enjoyed as a child. I studied for 11 years with the Open University to gain a degree in Natural Sciences with Physics and Astronomy and be 2/3rds of the way through a degree in Mathematics. Once my son turned 16 I applied for and secured a PhD place at Keele.
SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?
MB: That depends. On days I drive the hour to work (and an hour back again) I probably to about 9 - 10 hours work. Though sometimes this can involve demonstrating for the undergrads and the time it takes me to prepare for these sessions rather than my own research. On day's I work at home I can easily do 12 hours a day. As well as my research I am involved with the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) as the Publicity Officer. I seem to do something most days for that from answering an email to producing long reports on how best to maximise publicity as well as finding suitable place to advertise the society and attending Astronomy fairs. Sometimes I can spend a good 4 hours at a time on SPA work.
SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?
MB: Lots of experience at conferences and actually observing. This would be very useful in gaining technical experience and developing good contacts with fellow astronomers within the same area as my self and in other area's too. Practise at presenting to my peers would a great advantage and develop confidence in my own ability in my chosen field.
SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?
MB: Don't be intimidated by anyone. Hold your ground and chip in to conversation over coffee; be prepared to be shot down in flames without batting an eyelid and turn the tables at a future discussion – show you can hold your own. Attend as many conferences, talks, workshops etc as you can and build up the number of contacts you have. When you have met someone at a conference and their work interests you do make the effort to get in touch with them and establish a rapport. If you can get involved in voluntary or outreach activities with astronomy do so – it is very rewarding and can lead to many interesting contacts for the future. Above all take advantage of every opportunity every time a door cracks open push your way through and embrace the challenge.