MIST

Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

Representing the MIST Community in award nominations

MIST Council has recently launched an effort to create an award nominations task force with the following aims:

  1. Actively contribute towards more equal representation and a diverse range of nominees for awards
  2. Recognise and promote the work of overlooked members of the community
  3. Provide a means for students and ECRs to gain experience in preparing an effective nomination package

The initial plan is to start by considering those awards given out by the Royal Astronomical Society. This is so there will be sufficient time to prepare nomination packages by the RAS deadline (July 2020), and the wide range of awards will allow us to consider the entire MIST community. The task force is spearheaded by Oliver Allanson, Jasmine Sandhu, and Maria-Theresia Walach.

This task force is inspired by Liz MacDonald, a heliophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liz Macdonald organized the Nomination Task Force within AGU’s Space Physics and Aeronomy (SPA) section, which has been summarised in an article in Eos. We plan to work in a manner similar to that described in the article, as we believe that by having a community task force we will be able to achieve community-wide representation in a timely manner.

If you would like to be part of the task force then please sign-up using our Google Form by Friday 4th October. At this stage we are not soliciting for specific ideas for nominees. Instead we are seeking to gauge support and receive feedback. We would like to emphasise that all members of the MIST community are welcome, and indeed encouraged, to sign-up to to join this task force, from PhD student to Emeritus Professor.

New MIST Chair and Vice-Chair elected

Congratulations to John Coxon on becoming MIST Chair, and to Jasmine Sandhu on becoming MIST Vice-chair in a unanimous vote at a Council meeting last week.
 
MIST Council elects a new Chair whenever the previous Chair steps down, and in addition this year, the council has decided to elect a Vice-Chair for the first time.
 
On behalf of the MIST community, we would like to thank Ian McCrea for doing a superb job as Chair during his tenure on the Council.

EGU elections now open

The call for candidates for the EGU 2019 elections is currently open, with a deadline of 15 September 2019. The following roles are up for election: Union President, General Secretary, and the Division Presidents. More details about these roles and how you can nominate yourselves/colleagues can be found on the EGU website. 
 
MIST Council would like to emphasise that this is an excellent opportunity to contribute to and shape the field on an international scale, and we hope to see members from the MIST community putting themselves forward.

Summer Science Exhibition 2020

The Royal Society is currently accepting proposals for the Summer Science Exhibition 2020, and the deadline for proposals is 10 September 2019. Further details on applying can be found here.
 
MIST Council would like to highlight that this is an excellent opportunity for cross-institutional collaborations! The MIST community is involved in a number of projects with a particularly timely aspect (e.g. Solar Orbiter and SMILE), which would be very appropriate to propose to the Royal Society. If you are currently preparing a proposal that you are happy to invite community members to join or you have an idea for a proposal that you would like to work with the community on, then please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with a short outline by 9 August 2019. We hope to then share these projects with the community to build support for the proposals and involve the wider community!
 
We will be discussing this further and sharing ideas on the #public-engagement channel on the MIST Slack workspace. If you aren’t on the MIST Slack workspace then click here for details.

2019 Rishbeth prize winners announced

We are pleased to announce that the Rishbeth Prizes this year are awarded to Affelia Wibisono and Michaela Mooney , both of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UCL).
 
Affelia Wibisono wins the prize for the best MIST student talk, entitled “Jupiter’s X-ray Aurorae as seen by XMM-Newton concurrently with Juno”. Michaela wins the best MIST poster prize, for a poster entitled “Evaluating auroral forecasts against satellite observations”.
 
MIST Council would like to congratulate both Affelia and Michaela. As prize winners, Affelia and Michaela have been invited to write articles for Astronomy & Geophysics, which we look forward to reading.

Public Engagement and Me

by Affelia Wibisono

Affelia Wibisono is a first year PhD student at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (University College London). Alongside her research into Jupiter’s x-ray aurorae, Affelia is involved in a wide variety of public engagement activities. In this post Affelia talks about her experiences doing public engagement and ways to get more involved yourself!

My Experiences in Public Engagement

Public engagement is something I’m passionate about. In fact, I had a career in science communication for 6 years before starting my PhD at MSSL. It was something that I knew I wanted to do since I was at school, so I took part in as many outreach activities as I could during my undergraduate studies. I also worked as a summer intern at Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium and even had the chance to take part in the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory Roadshow whilst I was there.
Photo of Affelia and Liz Bonnin

Me with Liz Bonnin, one of the presenters of Bang Goes the Theory, during my summer internship at Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium.

After graduation, I started working at the Science Museum in London as an Explainer where I did pretty much that: I explained the science behind the exhibits in the Launchpad (now known as Wonderlab), Pattern Pod and The Garden interactive galleries. I got to engage with a variety of people - from toddlers to their nannies, from Year 1 classes to A-Level students, science enthusiasts, international visitors and even people who wanted to impress their dates. By far my favourite part of the job was to present science shows with a lot of demos and audience participation. I had two shows, my first was “Flash! Bang! Wallop!” which was about explosions and was obviously great fun to perform! Who wouldn’t want to blow a squib or fire Barbie out of a cannon?! My second show was “The Bubbles Show” and was for younger children. One of my highlights was when I had 200 people (yes, including the adults) shout “WE LOVE BUBBLES! WE LOVE BUBBLES!” at me.

A photo from the "Flash! Bang! Wallop!" show at the Science Museum.A photo from "The Bubbles Show" at the Science Museum.

Presenting my two science shows at the Science Museum.

I then moved on to the Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG) where I coordinated the schools programme and was in charge of the day-to-day running of the onsite activities. Making sure 300 students and teachers were in the right place at the right time amongst other visitors in a relatively small building was challenging at times! I also presented planetarium shows and led workshops, again for a whole range of audiences, and even gave talks at festivals such as the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, Camp Bestival and Space Rocks. It was at the ROG where I truly developed my writing skills. I was lucky enough to write posts for their blog, articles for newspapers, and short pieces for the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year books. Our online audience was also very important to us, so I was also involved in the ROG’s Live Streams, animated videos and podcasts. Something I never thought I would get to do was give media interviews. My very first was a live interview about New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto for a South African radio show. Since then, I’ve spoken to journalists about Tim Peake, the Great American Eclipse of 2017 and various astronomical events amongst other things for TV, radio, print and online.

A photo of Affelia giving a talk.

Left: Presenting at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. Right: My piece for The Guardian about the Perseids meteor shower.

Since I started at MSSL in September 2018, I’ve taken part in a number of public engagement activities. Some of them were small scale and required very little preparation like running a workshop for a group of scouts or visiting a local school. Others needed more planning like giving a public lecture at the ROG (I was asked to do this before I’d even left my full time job there!) or being interviewed for a short film about the 50th Anniversary of the first lunar landing.

A photo of Affelia giving a public lecture.A photo of Affelia talking to primary school pupils.

Left: My public lecture at the ROG’s Peter Harrison Planetarium. Right: Using fruits to show the relative sizes of the planets in our Solar System to some primary school pupils.

I’m grateful that both of my supervisors do a lot of outreach themselves and are very supportive of me doing the same. I still work at the ROG and present planetarium shows and school workshops when they need someone to cover.  I can accept and reject shifts as I like so I can fit them around my work at MSSL and other commitments. I was asked by Jasmine to write about how I manage my time between public engagement and research, and to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve done that successfully yet. I limit myself to no more than 2 days at the ROG per month and make myself unavailable to work there for at least two weeks before a Big Deadline or conference. Before saying yes to any outreach requests at MSSL, I check what my schedule looks like around the time of the event. If it looks clear(ish), I ask myself these questions: 1) Will I enjoy it? 2) Will I gain any new experience, skills or contacts by doing it? 3) Am I the best person to do it or is the event better suited for someone with a different expertise? Public engagement should benefit you and your audience.

Why do Public Engagement?

My belief is that engaging the public is just as important as the research that we do as PhD students. Some research councils, such as STFC, require those they support to do a certain amount of outreach. Interacting with non-specialists is a great way to share your passion for your work and I often find myself more motivated to continue with my research afterwards because they remind me that Jupiter’s X-ray aurorae are freaking awesome. Their questions can really test your understanding and even give you ideas as to where to take your research next.

Public engagement allows you to develop skills that can be transferred to your research and beyond. The most obvious being your communication skills. There’s no doubt in my mind that my experience in public engagement has helped with every presentation, report and funding application I’ve produced during my PhD so far. It allows you to grow your professional contacts and develop your team working skills. I’ve already mentioned time management, but it can also help improve your people management and leadership skills too. If you can successfully get 30 teenagers to do what you ask them to, you can do it to anyone. I love coming up with new demos and new activities to engage the public with because I get to be creative and practise my problem solving skills.

I’d like to think that I’ve sparked scientific interests in some of the young people I’ve worked with and helped them to build their confidence.  If they decide that they want to continue studying science then that’s great. But they won’t all grow up to be scientists, and that’s ok. My hope is that they have a newfound appreciation for the Universe and enjoyed themselves whilst doing so. That’s enough for me. 

Last but definitely not least, it’s fun!

What kind of Public Engagement can I do?

There are so many things you can do! You could organise something through your department, like an open day or work experience week for A-Level students. Your university probably has an Outreach or Widening Participation team that could offer advice and resources. There are already existing programmes with guaranteed audiences like Pint of Science, Soapbox Science (for women researchers), and the online based I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here that you can get involved in. I’m a Scientist is a two week long competition in which scientists from a wide range of disciplines are split into several groups. The winning scientist from each group receive £500 to communicate their research with the public. School students (from both primary and secondary schools) ask questions for the scientists to answer at any time between the two weeks. There are also live chats that last 30 minutes each and can be very intense as the aim is to answer as many questions from the children as possible. To be honest, I never saw it as a competition but as a chance to interact with many young people without too much effort.

A screenshot of the "I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here" Profile.

My I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here profile

Schools and astronomical societies are always looking for expert speakers. They may contact your department or you could sign up to be a STEM Ambassador. Teachers and group leaders advertise their events on the website and you can volunteer to do as little or as many as you want.

You can go down the digital route by writing a blog, recording podcasts or starting a YouTube channel. Your university might have one of these already that you can help with. MSSL has a podcast called Thinking Space and with the help of other first year PhD students and Professor Geraint Jones, the creator of the podcast, I recorded an episode about our first few months at MSSL for prospective students. If that sounds like too much then you can use Twitter or Instagram to engage the public with your work.

It’s super important to remember that there is no such thing as the “general public”. Public engagement is most effective when you have a clear idea of who your target audience is. This could be based on their age group, shared interests or needs. This will help you decide what kind of activity you do.

Training and Funding

There’s a lot of support for researchers who want to do more public engagement. Look out for training opportunities run by your universities. There’s a number of mailing lists and communities you can be a part of that provide training and are great ways to meet other public engagement doers and professional science communicators. Three that I’m a member of are the  PSCI-Comm mailing list, BIG and the Presenter Network. I find the Presenter Network especially helpful because you get to meet a wide variety of presenters, including actors, comedians, museum workers and YouTube presenters. It was founded by the ROG but it has now grown and has several hubs around the country (and even internationally!) so if you’re not based in London, chances are there’s a hub near you. We meet every 2 or 3 months at different places (different organisations take it in turns to host (e.g. the ROG, the Science Museum, ZSL London Zoo) and share best practice about different aspects of presenting. There is now an annual conference every September at the ROG. Best thing is that it’s all free! Organisations like the NCCP, IOP, STFC, the Royal Society and the RAS offer grants that you can apply for if you have a public engagement idea you want to come to life.

I hope this has been helpful and have fun out there!

If you have any questions about Affelia's post and how to get involved with public engagement, then you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..