When I was at school, the concept of work experience was a relatively new thing. Just over twenty years ago, when I was 17, I was asked what I wanted to do when I left education, so that a work experience placement could be arranged.
Now, I should tell you a little about me at the time. I enjoyed space and space science. I was an amateur astronomer, and my favourite childhood television programmes were Dr Who and Think of a Number, and my favourite films as a child were the Star Wars series. Yes, I was a bit of a geek.
So, when confronted with the “what do you want to be” question, the obvious answer was “an astrophysicist”. Now, this was not the usual doctor / lawyer /vet / journalist / retail manager type options that provide easy work experience placements with establishments with which my school might have an existing relationship. I called the local university’s physics department, and was pleasantly surprised when a placement was arranged for me to work as a PDRA (post-doctorate research assistant) working in the Astrophysics department.
One of the purposes of work experience is to learn about the world of work, and whilst the placement was excellent, the world of scientific research is such a large and diverse world that a few days working there gave me only a snapshot into what a professional scientist might do. I loved my short time there, and among the things that I did learn – and there were many – one that I could not have predicted as a potential outcome was that I quite liked coffee. I had never drank coffee before this placement, and being young, shy and naïve, I accepted a cup of coffee when offered. I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. It was also my first experience as a commuter. I felt like a proper member of the working world getting on the train to Belfast each morning.
The placement continued my enthusiasm for the topic, and I continued through to study Astrophysics at university, and even worked in the physics department of a university in Eastern Germany, once upon a time. That, however, is another story.
I decided, though, that the world of academia was not for me, and have worked in various roles in various companies since. One of the things that has not diminished for me, though, is my enjoyment of astronomy. Complete with my own telescope, I do enjoy scanning the skies to see what incredible sights the heavens provide. One of the objects that I enjoy watching in the night sky is the moon. I could spend hours looking at it, and have, as well as taking a few photos.
I do know, however, that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. We had some friends over to visit for the weekend, and I got my telescope out and focused on the moon. My friend Gordon and I marvelled at the joys of the universe, and Gordon’s young sons looked at the moon through the telescope. Whilst they liked it, they did not seem to have quite the same enthusiasm for it as us. Our wives, however, seemed to have more enthusiasm for a bottle of wine than for the moon.