Sheila KananiCredit: Sheila Kanani
Sheila Kanani


Sheila Kanani

PhD student in the planetary science group at Mullard Space Science Laboratory

What does your job involve?

My job involves data analysis, computer programming, writing papers and presenting results at conferences around the world!

What interested you in working in the space sector?

I became interested in the space sector when I was a child and saw the film “Apollo 13” then after much research I realised that my dream would be to be a space educator, preferably in the form of an educator astronaut like my idol, Christa McAuliffe.

What do you do in a typical day?

My job doesn’t have a day to day routine! Obviously my main task is to complete my PhD by investigating some new science and writing a thesis. Every day is difference when you are a planetary scientist. Here at my lab we built one of the instruments on board the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn at the moment. Because we built it we get all the data, which means we get to look at results that no one else has ever seen before! We analyse the data using computer programmes, then draw conclusions from what we see. One of my favourite things about my work is that every day is pretty flexible, which means I can take days out of the lab so I can visit schools and give workshops about space, or teach the public to make planetary landers using eggs as the precious payload. Watch out, they normally get scrambled!

Are there any other interesting aspects to your work, e.g. working in other locations or with other fields of science?

Some of the most interesting things I’ve done have been because of my PhD, or the lead up to it. I’ve travelled to Australia and used radio telescopes in the outback, visited Moscow and touched the capsule that took Yuri Gagarin into space and I’ve been to Space Camp in Houston, Texas! As a PhD student I’ve travelled lots to collaborate with international scientists and I’ve even been to NASA a couple of times!

What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?

The thought that the data I get actually comes from a spacecraft orbiting Saturn is incredible! I do wish I could visit though. I think space is the most inspiring thing in the world!

Why is what you do important?

I think generally physics and science is important for bettering humanity with learning and discovery. Saturn is an important system to investigate because it is a mini Solar System so it can give us clues as to how our own Solar System evolved, and tell us why we are here. Space travel and exploration is important because it is in human nature to want to learn more and more and reach out to things we don’t understand. We are natural pioneers and space is the final frontier!

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?

I would advise you to follow your dreams. To work in the space industry you don’t just have to do physics or maths, you can be an engineer or a doctor or a teacher. So do what makes you happy and you will find your path into the space industry. Or if that path doesn’t exist, you can forge a new one!

Watch Sheila presenting  a workshop on comets to students at The Hollyfield School in Surbiton, as part of a programme to encourage young people to enter STEM careers.



UK Space Agency

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is an executive agency of the Government of the United Kingdom, responsible for the United Kingdom's civil space programme.

This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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