Interview

Changing Careers: Tony Mears

Tony Mears decided to change careers from archaeology which then led to a role within the UK Space Agency as their Technology Roadmapping & Harmonisation Lead. Tony now works for the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.


Who are you and what do you do?

I'm Tony Mears, Associate Director of Innovation at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. I was previously the 'Technology Roadmapping & Harmonisation Lead' at the UK Space Agency (UKSA). I have an undergraduate degree in archaeology from the University of Reading, and a master's degree in political communication from the University of Leeds. I have been chair of governors at a secondary school, and am currently a town councilor.

What did your space sector role involve?

I led the inputs of UK capability to the European Space Agency's Technology Harmonisation process which produces pan-European space technology roadmaps in over 50 technology areas. I also led various domestic mapping efforts to address internal priorities. Additionally, I led some areas of technology policy, including with the United Nations and other government departments.

What's your background and career path?

I studied archaeology as an undergraduate and became a professional archaeologist once I had finished my studies. Archaeology took me all over the UK and the world, but the earning potential is limited and British winters are not a time most of us want to spend all day outside.

I opted for a career change and studied a master's in political communication, then took a role in the civil service. I've enjoyed roles within Government Finance, ministerial and senior official's offices in the Dept. of Health, and then when I wanted to stretch my policy and strategy legs, the UK Space Agency. My roles at the UKSA included commercial and international policy as we set up the spaceflight programme, strategy work on EU Exit, and then my technology role.

Following proposed changes to the agency and its role within government, I decided to take on a new challenge in the NHS.

What did you do to go about changing career? 

I studied for my master's to leave archaeology, in hindsight this wasn't necessary, but it was a valuable experience. To join the UKSA I really just needed to apply. As part of the civil service, and a non-technical agency, there are no qualifications relevant to space engineering necessary.

More broadly to those thinking of changing the sector/role in which they work I would say this: you are more qualified and interesting than you think. Diverse views make for better decisions and most employers are keen to hear from applicants with a (for them) non-traditional set of experiences.

How did you get your first job in the space sector?

I applied through Civil Service Jobs, but again it can be argued that the agency isn't really within the sector.

Why did you want to move to the space sector? When did you decide to try?

Really I wanted a policy role, and also to work in a non-central department for a while, it so happened that the UKSA provided those opportunities while also being in a sector of immense personal interest.

Looking back there is also a tremendous, and growing, responsibility on the sector as space assets support more and more of our critical national infrastructure and as we look to support high-value sectors and jobs. The sector has a really bright future ahead and will be more nationally and internationally integral as the years go by. 

Did you feel like there was a job for you in the sector?

This is a tricky one for a civil servant, as I then was, to answer. Probably not the sector, but certainly in the agency. Even if I think about what I could do in the sector now it would be limited to government-facing engagement, senior management, perhaps business development, but still nothing technical as I don't have the training or experience.

Was the style of your job applications in the space sector different from what you were used to?

No, the civil service is extremely prescriptive and consistent to ensure the fairness of assessment.

What did you enjoy most about your space sector role?

The international elements gave me a lot of opportunities to hone my diplomatic skills and meet a really diverse range of people. I also enjoyed how industry-facing I was, getting out and seeing the business end of the sector was a real privilege.

It should also be said that there is a diverse range of individuals working in space in the UK, and some huge characters among them. I miss the people most of all I think.

Do you have any other advice for people wanting to make a similar change?

If you want to join the agency from outside the civil service it can be tricky (all roles are advertised to existing civil servants first). Join the civil service in any way you can and then keep an eye out. 

You might not think the wider civil service is for you but it's a real sweet shop of amazing roles that touch space in many ways. The Department for Transport, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory are all part of the civil service and have skin in the game when it comes to space. There might be more for you in our professional family than you realise.

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