Credit: Charlotte Blake-Kerry

Interview

Changing Careers: Charlotte Blake-Kerry

Charlotte Blake-Kerry has a background in sociology and previously worked as a support worker for Mencap, but now works in the space sector as the Head of Programme Management Office for the National Space Innovation Programme at the UK Space Agency.


Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, my name is Charlotte Blake-Kerry and I work at the UK Space Agency in Swindon. I am the Head of Programme Management Office for the National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) which was launched in 2020 and is the first national programme specifically to support innovation in the space sector.

What does your role involve?

I am responsible for the programmatic delivery of NSIP including the development, and management of effective governance, reporting and assurance approaches across the programme, management and reporting of risks and issues, and oversight of the NSIP funding calls.

What’s your background and career change pathway?

I studied Sociology at Bath Spa University, graduating in 2010. Throughout my three years at university, I also worked full-time shifts at Mencap as a support worker in Swindon, which worked well around my studies. After I graduated, I continued to work there for 18 months as a support worker and also as a Mencap employee representative for South-West England. During this time, the UK Space Agency was set up in Swindon and I noticed roles were being advertised locally. In particular, the UK Space agency advertised for an assistant programme manager for the Technology and Exploration programmes, and I was really interested in the role.

I didn’t have a space background, but I took a chance and I applied for the role as I was really interested, and I knew I would have the transferable skills from my time at university and as an employee representative. The recruitment process was a job application, supporting CV and finally an interview with three-panel members, the line manager as Chair. The interview was held in Swindon and was quite daunting! I was notified a few days later I was successful and offered the role.

I was 23 when I started at the UK Space Agency in November 2012 as an assistant programme manager, supporting the UK Space Agency Aurora Science call- funding for PhDs, Postdoc researchers and fellowships, supporting programme managers on the grant funding for the ExoMars mission, NASA Insight mission, minute-taking and lots of outreach events in the local area and at conferences. Since then, I have worked across many areas of the UK Space Agency including promotion to Programme Manager on the ExoMars and Insight missions, the EU Galileo programme and EU Exit, Head of Programme Management Office for the Spaceflight Programme and currently as Head of Programme Management Office on the National Space Innovation Programme.

Were there any barriers you had to overcome? How did you overcome them?

The technical language, and there was a lot of acronyms! It was initially quite overwhelming, however, over time, I learnt as I went, and I asked lots of questions! All of my colleagues were really supportive, and I was really fortunate to secure many shadowing opportunities early into my role, including attending ESA programme board meetings, NASA steering committees, industry meetings, academic advisory committees and space conferences, all encouraged by my line manager at the time.

In the early days, Google was my friend but also everyone in the Agency is supportive and when working with engineers and scientists, they are always more than happy to explain things. I was also doing free online courses to support my learning such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), space law courses and a short course on spacecraft instrumentation.

As many of the ESA Programmes Boards were abroad, I also had to overcome a fear of mine – flying! However, the experiences and networks gained earlier in my career are invaluable to the work and knowledge I have now.

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

As the UK Space Agency is an Executive Agency within Government, the Agency follows the standard Civil Service job applications, primarily ‘behaviours’ based. A lot of information on the Civil Service Framework can be found online and is applied across government.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

  • Getting to meet fascinating people and building relationships with other space agencies, other government departments, UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), engineers and scientists who are all really passionate about the subject matter. 
  • Seeing the technology advancements being made and the spin-out to terrestrial use.
  • The ability to travel, both around the UK and across Europe including Paris, Noordwijk and Brussels, although I am still waiting to go to my first launch! 
  • Going to university sites and clean rooms - my favourite was a clean room where the NASA InSight instruments were being integrated on the payload ahead of integration on the lander. 
  • Sometimes, I am able to do school visits in the local area for an afternoon and it’s really fun to see the excitement space creates for young children.

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

If you see a role that interests you and you think you have the right skills then apply. It does not always matter if you don’t have a space science or engineering background, a lot of roles in the space sector do not have this requirement and there are a wide range of jobs you can apply for.

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