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.

Farewell to the magnetopause and hello science policy!

by Katie Raymer

Last year, I completed my PhD at the University of Leicester and finally crossed the Earth’s magnetopause one last time and entered the science policy-osphere!

In this blog post I’ll tell you about how I got to where I am now and what a career in science policy entails.

Fake news, POST and parliament

When I started my PhD, I hadn’t thought too much about what I wanted to do afterwards. I quite fancied a post-doc position, but knew it would be difficult to get and wasn’t certain if I wanted to stay in academia in the long term. In the summer of my second year, when I was working incredibly hard* (*procrastinating on Twitter…) I spotted a tweet about a three-month policy Fellowship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). After doing some research and speaking with my supervisors, I decided to apply. I thought it would be a good excuse to start thinking about my CV for post-PhD life and so I felt I had nothing to lose. As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

POST are best known for producing short policy briefings on science and technology topics for parliamentarians known as ‘POSTnotes’. POSTnotes distil an incredibly large volume of research into four-pages in a clear, concise and impartial manner.

The Houses of Parliament (left) and my POSTnote.

During my Fellowship, I was tasked with writing a POSTnote on Online information and fake news – a topic completely different to my PhD and highly controversial! It was great getting to grips with something new and putting my research and communication skills to the test. To produce the POSTnote I interviewed academics, civil servants, people from industry and the charity sector, and read a vast range of literature. After going through multiple review stages, it was published!

I would highly recommend doing an internship during your PhD. It teaches you new skills, and how to work with different people and in different environments. It gives you a break from your PhD and it is fantastic for your CV. Applications for UKRI POST fellowships are currently open.

How much does a kilogram weigh?

For me, it wasn’t an option to not have an income once my PhD funding ran out, so as the date loomed, I started job hunting. After a couple of rejections, my friend sent me a link to a Policy Communications role at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). I sent off my CV and was invited for an interview. They offered me the job and I managed to negotiate starting part time for my first month whilst I finished writing my thesis (which I would wholeheartedly not recommend if you can help it – new job, new career, new city AND writing a thesis… pretty stressful!).

NPL is the home of measurement in the UK: they develop and maintain the national primary measurement standards, as well as undertaking scientific research, development and testing new products and processes. As my role at NPL included comms, I was lucky enough to get involved with the media campaign on redefining the kilogram (and three other SI units!).

'Le Grand K' in fire and bomb proof vault (left)! A BBC News headline of the kilogram redefinition (top right) and the NPL logo (bottom right).

Until recently the kilogram was defined by a lump of metal, known as ‘Le Grand K’, which sat in a vault in Paris – whatever this lump of metal weighed set the ‘kilogram’ standard. Immediately you’ll spot the flaws in this – the mass of a lump of metal is not stable and it is estimated that Le Grand K has actually lost about the mass of an eyelash over its lifetime! So the point behind the redefinition of the SI units was to future-proof the system and link all the SI units to physical constants. The kilogram is now realised using the Planck constant. You can read more here if you are interested.

I worked at NPL for about 9 months before moving to where I am now. Lots of people tell you that it looks bad on your CV to only work somewhere for a short amount of time and change jobs frequently. This was certainly a concern of mine especially since I had just changed my career entirely, but I think it’s more important to do a job you really want to do. I enjoyed my time at NPL, but the job wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I learnt a lot and had some great opportunities (like going to Versailles to watch scientists from all over the world come together to vote to redefine the kilogram!), but the time was right to move on.

Newton’s death mask, science policy and meeting Boaty McBoatface

I started at the Royal Society in March 2019 and have loved it. The Society is a fantastic place to work with an incredible history. It is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence in the world, and its walls are adorned with paintings of past and present eminent scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

One of the exciting opportunities about working at the Society is that I get the chance to explore their library and vaults. They contain a vast array of scientific journals, articles, minutes from every meeting the Society has ever held, artwork, and even Sir Isaac Newton’s death mask (a plastercast of his face made immediately after his death… bit gross really).

The Society has one of the largest science policy teams outside of the civil service. I work as a Policy Adviser in the research systems team. This means I look at things like funding for research and development in the UK, and research culture which encompasses topics such as academic career paths, equality and diversity, research integrity and open access.

One of the cool things about my job is that I often have the opportunity to get out and about and meet people. Below is a photo from a visit to the National Oceanography Centre to discuss immigration policies for researchers. We were given a tour of the labs and I was introduced to Boaty!

A photo from when I met Boaty McBoatface!

What is science policy?

Science policy is often looked at in two ways: science for policy and policy for science. The first is about providing independent, authoritative and accessible scientific advice to decision-makers and to inform public discourse – so this could be providing evidence on climate change for government, for example. The second, which is where my work falls under, is about creating the best possible environment for excellent science by providing evidence and advice for policies that will have a direct impact on research such as migration, exiting the EU, and research culture.

Some of my day-to-day responsibilities include undertaking research, drafting reports and briefings, and organising and managing events and projects. I work with Royal Society Fellows and other experts to develop and promote independent, expert, and timely advice to decision makers.

What jobs are there?

There are lots of different science policy jobs you can do. Policy roles quite often overlap with communications and public affairs, so depending on what you enjoy and where your strengths lie, you could work anywhere on the policy communications spectrum.

You could work for Government in the civil service or be a policy analyst in the House of Commons or Lords Science and Technology Committees. Conversely, you could have more of a lobbying role and work at a learned society or charity like the Institute of Physics, Wellcome Trust or the Campaign for Science and Engineering, or work at a National Academy like the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering. Instead, you could have a more technical consultancy role and carry out research that will be used by policymakers.

I’ve only mentioned a few, but there are a lot of different jobs out there!

How can you do it?

Here are some of my top tips for starting a career in science policy:

  • The most important skill you need is being able to communicate complex topics to a wide variety of audiences. You can practice this by volunteering for outreach activities (see Affelia’s post for more information), or try writing about your work in a blog.
  • Doing an internship will obviously give you excellent experience, but I know this isn’t always an option for everyone. You can also apply for other things like STEM for Britain and Voice of the Future, which will demonstrate your interest in policy and communication skills.
  • You don’t need to be an expert in politics, but having a basic understanding helps. There are lots of accessible sources out there – check out the Institute for Government or the House of Commons Library and subscribe to their newsletters.
  • Organisational skills are vital – I spend a lot of my time organising events and meetings. Try organising an event at your university or in your research group. Perhaps you could run a journal club or invite a speaker to your university to talk about their research.
  • Think about your CV early on and look at what skills you will need (for whatever career you want to do!). Start identifying and filling the gaps.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions! I’m on Twitter (@kraymerr) or you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. smile