Career Profiles: Bethany Downer

What is your name?

Bethany Downer

Where do you work and what is your role/job title?

I am the Chief Science Communications Officer for the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes for the European Space Agency.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

I work completely remotely and there are various opportunities for travel and networking. I live and work from my hometown of St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.


Questions about your current Job

How did you go about getting your current job?

I was previously the Public Information Officer for ESA/Hubble, where I developed the skills and knowledge required for my current job. While still completing my Masters degree I sought to learn how to become an effective science communicator by staying up to date on the latest developments in space science and to train myself in communicating various content for different audiences.

Describe a typical day.

I work remotely, so I can take my work just about anywhere. My role is to oversee the content on the ESA/Hubble and ESA/Webb websites, and all matters pertaining to science outreach for these missions by coordinating the talented members of the international ESA/Hubble/Webb outreach team. This work is managed by the ESA Office at the Space Telescope Institute. In a typical day I can explore new stories based on discoveries presented in scientific papers that may be of interest to broader audiences. I spend most of my time coordinating our team to develop press science and photo releases, engagements with the astronomers, writing texts and scripts, developing visuals, directing video shorts, proof reading, science reviews, and dissemination. I also oversee the popular ESA/Hubble Picture of the Week series, which publishes a new Hubble image every Monday. We also take care of answering questions from the media and the general public, and I work closely with the Space Telescope Science Institute, NASA, and ESA.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled to many different places to attend conferences since diving into the space career. Soon I’ll be nearing 50 countries visited and I feel extremely grateful to have friends in the astronomy communications and greater aerospace industry all around the world to learn from and to engage with.

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?

This job sometimes requires quick action and inconvenient work hours at times, but this doesn’t bother me very much. I love my job and I’m happy to contribute towards sharing the news from Hubble and James Webb to the world.


Questions about education and training

What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

I first pursued an engineering degree directly from high school, but learned I lacked enjoyment for this particular field. I eventually found my passion for Earth Science and Geography, with specialization in English for my Bachelor of Science Degree.  Looking back, I see this as rather important because it allowed me to understand the dynamics and processes of Earth before applying this knowledge and understanding to space. It is through this first degree that I completed a 3-month research field experience in Alaska in the domain of wildlife management, presented my research in Kenya, and eventually resulted in my first academic paper publications. I then moved to France to complete a degree in Space Studies for my Masters program. This program included an internship component, which I completed in the Communications Department at ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications. This work experience solidified my love for public engagement and further motivated me to become a communicator for space.


Questions about yourself

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

In 2020 I coordinated Europe’s celebration of Hubble’s 30th anniversary for ESA/Hubble. Most recently, it has been extremely rewarding to support Webb’s science communication activities since its launch in December of 2021. These are opportunities and astronomy milestones I will forever be grateful to be a part of.

What is your dream job?

I honestly think I have it right now! I have a job where I am constantly learning, and I hope to continue to grow over the coming years as a better communicator and leader. I still like to think I’m young so I’m open to whatever may come next and I’m excited to see where the future will take me.

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.

One does not need an official job in science communication to start exploring if it is a possible career path. Staying up to date on the latest news and publications in your given domain is an important aspect of this career field and I encourage people to try considering how they would communicate a new science result to a friend or family member who is not an expert. This job requires one to be very organized, as communication and outreach work will have lots of moving pieces taking place simultaneously. It’s also important to have the scientific background in the field you will be communicating to broader audiences, as it is our responsibility to communicate content correctly. I think most important to truly love the field you are working in public engagement, outreach or communications with because you will be living and breathing it all the time. Stay open minded to new opportunities that may arise!