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The Z Files: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Updated Monday, 14th October 2019

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock shares her childhood memories of wanting to be a space scientist with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah

Transcript

Benjamin Zephaniah
I had a dream that I would explore space, discover a planet and call it the Planet Rasta.  I didn’t get to space, but I have made it to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to meet one of the world’s most famous space scientists, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and today she’s giving me the grand tour. 

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
The problems we’re having in the city now seem quite trivial compared with the heavens above really.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Well it’s in bigger figures isn’t it?

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
I know, that’s it.  We’re talking millennia; we’re talking sort of billions. 

Benjamin Zephaniah
Billions and billions of light years and stuff like that, and over there they’re worried about a few pounds.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
I know, yes. 

Benjamin Zephaniah
But I bet you Mars hasn’t got a financial district. 

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
That’s why I want to retire to Mars, look for their financial district.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Retiring to Mars, not Jamaica.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
You’ve got to have a big dream.

I got the science bug when I was about three or four. 

Benjamin Zephaniah
Three or four, now how could that happen?

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
Well it was the Clangers, and also when I was growing up I heard about the moon landings.  Yeah people going to the moon, so it all seemed possible.  One of the things I did when I was 15 is I made my own telescope.  The first night when I sort of pointed it up at the moon and there suddenly I could see the craters of the moon in amazing detail - that sort of wham, you know, you get it.

Benjamin Zephaniah
And how old were you when you said right, you know, I’m going to really study this and look into it?

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
So I think that was sort of my GCSEs, sort of where I’m 14, 15, because until then I hated school.  Because of my dyslexia it meant I wasn’t progressing and I wasn’t reading as well as I should for my age.  And also I didn’t like reading, because reading was sort of a bit of a struggle.  But then I started finding that I was sort of quite scientific, quite logical, and I started getting good grades in science and I thought hey I had the dream, but maybe the dream could become a reality.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Are you, what I grew up to know as a typical scientist, what did people around you think?

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
I kept it a secret, because I didn’t think I was going to make it, I thought people would just laugh at me.  If you have a dream, it could be really hard work, but if you work hard enough you can make it.

I love my work.  When I tell people I’m a sort of space scientist and they sort of do a double take, so what exactly do you do?  Because they assume I’m sort of in admin or something, but no I sort of get my hands dirty and I sort of build satellites and build instrumentation, and that’s what I love doing.  But what I want to do is try and get the message out there, because I think the more people see different people from ethnic minorities, more women doing these jobs, will realise that anyone can do the jobs.  It’s having the passion for it and wanting to do it. 

Benjamin Zephaniah
How would a young person that was inspired by you get into what you do?

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
Just find something you really love doing.  If you do something you really enjoy it’s not really a chore at all, if you just start with looking at the night sky and taking that in, it’s the start of a wonderful relationship.

If you look across the globe virtually every nation has a history of astronomy or wondering what’s out there.  When you look at the universe and the scale of the universe you think why on earth are we arguing?  And I think that’s what attracted me to space, it breaks down the barriers, you just see the earth as a planet.  We are just one people.

 

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