I know what you're thinking – biochemistry to space sounds like quite a leap. And in some regards, it has been. Along the way there have been several crash courses in astronomy, environmental and atmospheric sciences and solar physics. I chose to undertake my placement year at RAL Space as I wanted some solid experience in scientific communication before I graduated – and what better way to do this than in the UK's national space laboratory that sits at the heart of the largest science campus in the country?
My placement at RAL Space was self-arranged and as you'd expect from someone working in communications and social media, I found the vacancy through everyone's favourite trustworthy job-finder - Twitter. My first few months were getting used to working in the media and the small familiarities you get working at a space company like casually passing a 6m x 5m vacuum chamber every day on your walk in. In my first month I went on a media training course in London that taught me the ins and outs of video editing, which came in handy multiple times this year with all the videos I've created for the team. In September RAL Space were part of the European Space Agency stand at New Scientist Live and I went along with some colleagues to represent us there.
I represented RAL Space at a few more events like this later on in the year too, and I never got tired of seeing people's eyes come alive when you talked about some of the incredible science and research that goes on here. I love talking to people and thought I was already decent at it (my official certification to this day still being the winner of my school's talking competition in 2006), but it's staggering how much I've improved in terms of speaking in front of large audiences, my personal confidence in approaching tasks that would've scared away 2018 me and becoming overall a much more refined and eloquent speaker.
What may surprise you is that I did encounter the biosciences several times during my placement year at RAL Space. I even led my own communications campaign - 'Bringing space down to Earth' -that promoted two projects RAL Space are involved in that incorporate bioscience fields (check out the articles about sepsis and biodiversity monitoring). This campaign took up a large proportion of my time at RAL Space as I planned the whole thing from start to finish. And it paid off - I led my own government communications campaign that reached more than 730,000 people and was shared by the UK Science Minister and UK Space Agency!
Every week – and nearly every day – would be different in our office. I took part in media days, which is where local and national media agencies film with us or interview our teams; helped out on many public engagement events; created content for our social media channels and website; and interviewed scientists who had sent kit to the moon!
Throughout the year we organise and host several major events, including the annual Appleton Space Conference. This conference is the UK's flagship space conference, which means I was rubbing shoulders with some very important space figures. Making the ESA's Director of Science chuckle at one of my jokes is going to make a great dinner party story one day!
I've loved every day of working with my Communications and Engagement team and couldn't have really asked for a better introduction to the 9-5 lifestyle than working alongside them. Working in this team has taught me so many skills that I can utilise when I return back to university or should I pursue a career in media, such as: scientific writing, filming and video editing skills, campaign planning, social media, marketing and public relations. It's also led me to a clearer mind set in appreciating my strengths and reflecting on my weaknesses and I feel so much more mature and ready to enter the graduate life than I was previously.
In terms of the outside of work life that I encountered during my placement year - living in Oxford was a real plus. I lived about 10 minutes from Christ Church College and always had my pick of nature walks or historical landmarks to visit. I made some amazing friends with other placement students at STFC and it was lovely getting to experience and discover a new city with them.
Overall, it's been a blast.
Image: Manni with a fellow placement student during her year living in Oxford. Credit: Manni Gill