Renowned space scientist and TV presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock has encouraged Benenden students to “reach for the stars” in their careers.
As part of Benenden’s STEM Convention yesterday, in which several schools joined for a day of STEM-based lectures and workshops, Dr Aderin-Pocock delivered two talks aimed at inspiring young people to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.
In a motivational message, she told her audience: “Success isn’t about not failing. It’s about how you pick yourself up when you fail.”
Dr Aderin-Pocock is an honorary research associate of University College London's Department of Physics and Astronomy and co-presents the BBC astronomy programme The Sky at Night. She is president-elect of the British Science Association, was awarded an Institute of Physics prize for her public engagement in Physics and is the first black woman to win a gold medal in the Physics News Award.
Speaking to Benenden students in her second session last night, Dr Aderin-Pocock said we can all be role models and wanted to dispel the myth of needing to be perfect to be a role model, saying that she is dyslexic as well as being notorious for being untidy and being late.
She said: “Every one of us has something we excel at and can share.”
Referring to her dyslexia, Dr Aderin-Pocock said she had always struggled in school until she realised she had a natural aptitude for Science when she understood a particular Physics challenge. “Look for opportunities when they come along,” she told Benenden students. “My opportunity came along in Science class. I realised I got it right when nobody in the class got it right. I realised OK, if you can do that what else can you do?”
Dr Aderin-Pocock said she had fulfilled numerous personal dreams, including attending COP26, chatting to Queen Elizabeth over Zoom about Her Majesty’s encounter with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and having the previous evening chaired a meeting of global space agencies as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations.
She has also worked on missile defence systems, land mine detection and more recently on both the Gemini Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. This is in addition to meeting Professor Stephen Hawking and two childhood heroes: Nichelle Nichols who played Nyoto Uhura in Star Trek, and even the Clangers when she was immortalised as one of the space-loving creatures!
Dr Aderin-Pocock encouraged students to have an attitude of “stubborn optimism” and urged them to “be bold and have crazy dreams”, concluding: “Think big, think wild and go for it!”
When answering questions from the audience, she said that she hoped that humans could one day travel to Proxima b, our closest exoplanet neighbour (at a mere 4.24 light years from Earth, this would currently take 73,000 years but technological advances will reduce this travel time dramatically!) and that in all probability there must be other intelligent lifeforms in the universe – but that the chances of encountering them are tiny.
Dr Aderin-Pocock also said that climate change was an enormous threat to Earth, adding: “When you look at our planet from space you realise our planet is vulnerable, it needs looking after.”
She said afterwards: “Visiting Benenden School and giving two talks has been such a joy; the questions that the pupils asked were stimulating and challenging and I look forward to my next visit.”