Making space for women to thrive in astrophysics

More than 100 schoolgirls heard from LJMU astrophysicists during a special British Science Week event that celebrated the contribution of women in STEM

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The girls, from schools across Merseyside, heard all about the work of the National Schools’ Observatory spearheaded by the LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute and from female scientists breaking the mould in their field.

Dr Manisha Shrestha, a postdoctoral researcher at the university who grew up in Nepal, explained that the night sky was always something that intrigued her. However, she never thought she could be an astronomer and it was only once she got to high school that she realised ‘Nepalese people could be scientists too’.

“It’s really hard to picture yourself in a profession when you don’t always see yourself in your peers,” Manisha told the visiting schoolgirls.

But she didn’t let this be a barrier to her ambitions and went on to study physics and maths in the US before most recently joining the Astrophysics Research Institute where she uses the Liverpool Telescope to study gamma-ray bursts. Manisha commended her fellow female scientists at LJMU and that they were ‘working hard to make the field more welcoming for all to thrive’. 

Dr Stacey Habergham-Mawson, Project Manager with the National Schools' Observatory Project and Senior Lecturer at LJMU’s Astrophysics Research Institute, reinforced the benefits and need for more diversity within the science community.

“What you need to push the boundaries in science is to have a diverse community of people asking the questions. If you have a diverse community asking questions, you will always learn more because everyone comes at it from a different angle.”

Dr Habergham-Mawson also shared her hopes for the visiting pupils to take up careers in science. “What we’re doing today is about trying to inspire those students who might not have seen themselves reflected in the science community before; showing them that actually there are people like them doing science right now and doing an incredibly amazing job at it. There’s a history of people like them, who look like them and come from backgrounds like them who have contributed to this field. It’s about trying to show them some role models and that science is a plausible career path for them.”

The girls also heard from Sarah McDonald, a PhD student currently working remotely in Berlin, who dialled in to talk to the girls about her own journey into astrophysics and overcoming obstacles to fulfil her career hopes.

Other British Science Week events undertaken by the Astrophysics Research Institute included:

The events were also supported by LJMU’s Outreach team.


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