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What do scientists really do? My experience interviewing researchers

Updated Thursday, 24 March 2022

Inka Maskiewicz, a Year 11 student, interviews scientists at AstrobiologyOU and the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University. These videos explain what they research and do at the university...

Written by Inka Maskiewicz and edited by Grace Richards

 My name is Inka and I am currently in Year 11, about to sit my GCSE exams. I've been participating in the Girls’ Network Programme for a year now, which is set up to match high school students like me with mentors who share their interests and can help develop their career goals. Through this programme, I have been exposed to many amazing opportunities such as this work experience. Along with my mentor, we interviewed an array of scientists, involved in several areas of research and at different stages of their career. I wanted to understand the full scope of work that goes into producing scientific research and get to know the team of people that contributes to shaping our understanding of the world. The work of scientists may sometimes be perceived as enigmatic and complicated, however their research does not have to be a mystery to people who are not involved with science every day. Hopefully, these interviews can act as a guide to young people, showing what a science career involves and evoking the communal feeling overlooking the science world. 

The scientists at AstrobiologyOU and the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University told us about what they research and do at the university. They also shared what a typical day looks like for them. 

Transcript (PDF document90.6 KB)

This first video demonstrates the wide range of careers that all come together to form AstrobiologyOU and, more generally, the School of Physical Sciences at the OU. I find it fascinating that there is an endless list of research areas and how everyone does something unique and special to them. The interviews highlight the vastness of science and how our world is so complex that everyone can undoubtedly find something they are interested in and want to dedicate their career to. 

This links to the universal uncertainty that accompanies the first steps into a career and how tricky it can be to decide where to direct your studies. With my GCSEs in a few months and hopes for a career in science, I wanted to know what the scientists experienced at the beginning of their careers and how they managed to get into the jobs they are currently in. 

Transcript (PDF document96.2 KB)

As someone at the beginning of their journey, it was important, and also comforting, to hear that many of the scientists were also unsure at the start of their careers around A levels and had some major changes along the way. Furthermore, it is significant to remember that a science career can be reached from various directions and beginnings and there is not one way of ‘correctly’ doing it. I think it is a positive thing that all journeys are different as this allows people to develop distinct and valuable skills that are particular to their experiences. 

Challenges, as well as rewards, are inevitable in every career, however successes in a science career are even more satisfying as they have the potential to change the world. The scientists shared some of the challenges they faced in their careers and what interesting discoveries they made despite them. 

Transcript (PDF document92.8 KB)

It is equally important to discuss the positive aspects of a science career, because without enjoyment and passion scientists would not have the determination to persevere through all the harder moments. A common theme among the scientists was that learning new things along the way was one of the most amazing and rewarding parts about their career in science. Besides being able to find original data, or a new way to collect their data and the privilege of doing that, the constant development in their own understanding of science was frequently mentioned as a positive aspect of their career. A prominent idea was that all the smaller discoveries still contribute to the wider science community, and are equally as important as answering the big questions. This is an encouraging thought to all scientists but especially young people who are uncertain whether a career in science will be gratifying and right for them. 

Collaboration is a big part of science research; it enables scientists to amalgamate their skills and knowledge to deal with the task at hand. This proved to be one of the most enjoyable factors of a science career – working with people who are equally as passionate and fascinated by science, along with meeting people from different fields and learning from them. Additionally, scientists work together and help each other solve problems through the process of peer review and collaboration, which allows scientists to assist each other and share experiences. 

There is a deep well of things to enjoy about a career in science, but here are the few that the scientists found particularly important: 

PDF document Transcript 83.1 KB

Conducting some of these interviews has taught me about the versatility and endless opportunities that exist in science. However, learning about how scientists initiate their careers helped me feel secure in my recent decisions. The key thing for me was to hear about the changes that can happen as you advance in a career, which are essential and the most effective way to find what you love the most. This was important as I am about to have a major change of environment when I go to college, where I hope to study physics, maths and English literature. Looking further into the future, I want to pursue a degree in science and carry on discovering what I am most passionate about and then dedicate my career to it. 


Devyani Gajjar: PhD student, School of Social Sciences & Global Studies, AstrobiologyOU

Mark Fox-Powell: Research Fellow, AstrobiologyOU

Oleg Kozhura: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Astronomy

Josh Wilde: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Astronomy

James Cole: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Space Instrumentation

Annie Lennox: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Planetary and Space Sciences

Josh Oakley: Laboratory Technician, School of Physical Sciences

Amy Dugdale: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, AstrobiologyOU

Zoe Morland: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, AstrobiologyOU

David Arnot: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Astronomy

Hannah Cooper: Public Engagement Officer, AstrobiologyOU

Louise Thomas: Senior Manager, AstrobiologyOU

Bonny Barkus: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Astronomy

Geraint (Taff) Morgan: Research Fellow, School of Physical Sciences, AstrobiologyOU

Claire Batty: Post Doctoral Research Associate, AstrobiologyOU

Zak Smith: PhD student, School of Physical Sciences, Astronomy


Thank you for feedback and ideas:

Susanne Schwenzer, Vic Pearson, Ann Grand, Hannah Cooper

 This article was originally published on the AstrobiologyOU website.

This article is part of the Astrobiology Collection on OpenLearn. This collection of free articles, interactives, videos and courses provides insights into research that investigates the possibilities of life beyond the Earth and the ethical and governance implications of this.



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