Never let anyone tell you that you aren't good enough or smart enough to do what you want.

5 Minutes with… Sheila Kanani, Astronomer, Royal Astronomical Society

imageWhat is your job – can you describe a typical day in your work life?

My job is Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer at the Royal Astronomical Society. I have no typical day at work! I got to where I am today from a very varied route. I have a PhD in Planetary Physics and spent five years as an astronomer. But it wasn’t like you imagine – I very rarely used a telescope or spent all night awake! When I was a research scientist I mostly did computer programming to find out more about Saturn, using data from the Cassini spacecraft. Nowadays I teach subjects like GCSE Astronomy, I give public lectures and talks, I aid consultations about A Level Physics, I visit schools and groups, I write public information leaflets and webpages… the list goes on! I also really enjoy taking press and media enquiries about current events in astronomy and have been on TV and radio news. Each day is so different and I love my job!

How did you get into space science?

When I was 13, I saw the film Apollo 13 and decided I wanted to be an astronaut. I read about astronaut Michael Foale and he had a PhD in Astrophysics, so I decided that I should get one too!

What interests did you have as a child?

I liked music, dancing and sport. I played the saxophone, did modern and tap dancing and played hockey. I also of course enjoyed astronomy and space and I loved reading books of most genres. I was lucky enough to go on some great family holidays which gave me a buzz for travelling, and my favourite TV show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If you weren’t an astronomer what would you be?

I’m a qualified science teacher so I would probably be in a school somewhere teaching GCSE Physics right now. Or I’d be an astronaut up in the ISS 🙂

How did you celebrate Tim Peake’s launch into space?

Tim launched into space on December 15th and my first baby was due to be born on December 18th so I was heavily pregnant! So I spent the day on the sofa watching the launch and all the celebrations and eating celebratory food!

What advice would you give your eight-year-old self about building a career in space science?

Never let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough or smart enough to do what you want. Do what you enjoy and what makes you happy and you can achieve anything – even becoming an astronaut and getting to the moon!

Saturn SheilaLog in or sign up to the Principia Mission Space Diary website to download your own copy of the Space Diary along with teaching notes and resources. 

The Principia Mission Space Diary is one of nine education projects funded by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, to support the education aims of Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station. Find out more about the Principia education projects here.