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Dancing with the stars

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The background


Joanne can’t recall the exact moment she became interested in astrophysics. “For me, it was more about investigating different ideas and trying to keep as many avenues open as possible while I decided,” she recalls. “It turns out there is a lot you can do with physics. It’s the kind of subject which can take you down many career paths.”

After achieving a first class degree in astrophysics from the University of Liverpool, Joanne completed a PhD at the University of Sheffield. She was then offered a Research Fellowship at the prestigious American Museum of Natural History in New York, and as a result presented her work in Japan, Sydney and Germany. During her time in New York, Joanne’s passion for inspiring children to become interested in science developed.

UCLan

At UCLan, Joanne teaches on the first and second year astrophysics degree programmes and mentors final year project students. She also has a PhD student who undertakes research in the same field as her own: Massive Stars as Supernova Progenitors.

Away from the lecture theatre, Joanne is a researcher, collaborating with people from the UK and the US, attending conferences all over the world and presenting her work to academics in the same research field.

She also works two days a week as the Ogden Science Officer, promoting the teaching and learning of physics and astronomy with local schools, colleges and community groups through a variety of different activities. At UCLan’s Alston observatory site, she helps beavers and cubs get their space badges. “I never fail to be impressed by their enthusiasm, vivid imaginations and interesting questions.”

“There are so many aspects I enjoy about my job, both seeing a student have success after working hard and seeing the look of wonder on a year 6 student’s face when I show them images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope are equally rewarding.

“Travelling to conferences in places such as Japan or Hawaii is not a bad perk – and although it can be a juggling act at times, trying to balance the different aspects of my job but that just means it never gets boring!”

Women in STEM

UCLan’s ongoing campaign to promote women in STEM includes posters featuring six of the University’s female academic role models, produced in relation to the Athena Swan Bronze award which recognises commitment towards advancing women’s roles in STEM. The poster featuring Joanne refers to her passion for dance, showing how people can combine a successful career in STEM with personal interests and hobbies.

“I’ve always preferred STEM subjects, but with a maths teacher for a mother and an engineer for a father, I was always surrounded by STEM so it was the normal to me, rather than being seen as something that girls didn’t do,” she explains. Research refers to this concept as ‘science capital’ which is the influence a family has on a child’s aspirations; a combination of science-related qualifications, knowledge, interest in science.

“I think the biggest thing that needs to change starts with toys and the way children play. To change the perspective of a child which has only ever known one way is difficult, so it’s better to make sure the boy/girl divide doesn’t develop in the first place.”

Away from the world of astrophysics and astronomy, dancing is a welcome relaxation method for Joanne, who is currently training for her advanced one ballet (equivalent to grade 8). “I’ve danced since I was three years old and as I grew up I continued to enjoy it and went on to have the opportunity to dance at some fantastic venues, including the Palace Theatre in Manchester, the Sadler’s Wells theatre in the West End and Euro Disney.” She also takes time out to visit the theatre to watch musicals and ballet. “My favourites are Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Swan Lake – they’re so beautiful and powerful, yet each is so different and the strength and power of the dancers is truly remarkable.”