Changing Careers: Melanie Davies
Melanie Davies, a Space Science Communicator, previously worked in the creative industries before deciding to set up Creative Space, a not-for-profit organisation offering astronomy outreach and public engagement.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Melanie and I'm a Space Science Communicator. My first career was in art and design - I was the Creative Director at my own design consultancy, then I became a professional calligrapher, producing illuminated manuscripts for people across the UK. I went on to study Geoscience and Physics at the Open University (OU) and then Astronomy at the University of Sussex. In 2014, after being elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, I followed my dream and set up Creative Space, which is now a go-to resource for space education and fun! Like the Universe, the company has grown from a seed of an idea into a big reality that continues to expand today. As well as being a Space Science Communicator, I'm also the Marketing Director and CEO, plus a consultant for another space outreach company and author.
What does your role involve?
As a Space Science Communicator, I have many different roles. I run a mobile planetarium - I write and present shows for different audiences from nursery schools to science fairs, I present virtual planetarium shows on Zoom, I create space workshops for schools and for public outreach, I run events and put together community projects for families in deprivation, I write and give talks about astronomy for adults and children, and I write news and astronomy features for magazines.
What’s your background and career path?
I'm dyslexic and being undiagnosed, I struggled at school. After school, I went to art college and went on to work in design studios as a graphic designer. I learned about advertising and marketing and worked my way up to becoming a Creative Director. After having children, I decided I'd like to follow a more academic career. Having testing positive for dyslexia, I received a huge amount of support from the Open University. Whist studying for my science degree, I worked part-time at Herstmonceux - where the Royal Greenwich Observatory moved to after leaving London - which is now a science centre with some fantastic old telescopes.
What did you do to go about changing career?
When my children were very young, I decided a distance learning degree would be best for me, so I studied Geoscience, then Physics at home - fitting the study between working part-time at the science centre and caring for my babies.
What resources, organisations, events, etc. were most useful to you?
The OU, YouTube (online lectures), the Royal Astronomical Society (Fellows' A&G magazine, National Astronomy Week conferences, Burlington House meetings), STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council), ASDC (the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres) conference and local astronomy societies.
How did you get your first job in the space sector?
I created it myself.
Why did you want to move to the space sector? When did you decide to try?
Regarding my dyslexia, I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't stupid. So, in my mid-30s I decided to study science. After starting a geoscience degree, I started working in a science centre, which just happened to be one of the original homes of British astronomy. Whilst working with the historic telescopes, my urge to learn more about astrophysics became apparent, so I switched to a physics degree, specialising in astronomy and space.
Did you feel like there was a job for you in the sector?
I would have loved to have become a professional astronomer, but, having a young family and a husband with a career of his own, I wasn't able to travel to research posts - either in the UK or abroad. I was once approached by ESA to interview for a didactics post in the Netherlands, but turned it down, again because of my family. There didn't seem to be a job for me that didn't involve re-location, so I set up my own company, offering astronomy outreach and public engagement.
Were there any barriers you had to overcome? How did you overcome them?
Yes, there were many barriers. The main one was funding. It costs a lot of money to set up an astronomy outreach business and, in particular, to buy a mobile planetarium. I put together a business plan, with detailed cash flow forecasts, and sent this to local charities that provided funding. I was very lucky I received enough funding to buy my planetarium. Another potential obstacle was the creation of a brand, publicity and website to promote the new business. Thanks to my first career, I was able to create all of this myself, for just the cost of printing, web domain and hosting.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I'm passionate about all things space and love to share my knowledge. I particularly enjoy creating community projects for children and families in crisis and with low science capital, to raise their aspirations and to inspire them to consider career pathways into the space industry.
Do you have any other advice for people wanting to make a similar change?
Feel the fear and do it anyway!