Career Profiles: Niamh Shaw

Questions about your career and its development


1.What is your name?
Dr Niamh Shaw

2.Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
Steam Artist, Performer, Science Communicator. Artist in Residence with Blackrock Castle Observatory.

3. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
Deciding to leave science research and become a performer.

4. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
In secondary school my Chemistry and English teachers inspired me most, now my work has aspects of both!

5.Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes, it gives me the opportunity to travel to interesting places and meet like-minded people

Questions about your current Job


6.How did you go about getting your current job?
My entire career has been a journey; remaining curious has enabled opportunities in the space sector to bring me to where I am today.

7.Describe a typical day
There is no typical day, I just came from Adelaide, now I’m in Edinburgh with my Theatre show ‘To Space’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

8.What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
Researching and organising my performances and engaging with the people to work with before, during and after productions. Positive communication is a key responsibility.

9.What are the main challenges?
Finding the places where my performance would best fit and managing my time between them all. And that all my income comes from me creating my own opportunities. That can be a challenge sometimes.

10.What’s cool?
Meeting all the people involved in the space sector and inspiring those with a more casual interest.

11.What’s not so cool?
Managing your own business can mean doing some administrative jobs that are quite time-consuming but necessary. You are constantly applying for funding to make work in 12-18 months time. So you are always thinking about 18 months into the future.

12.What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
An ability to perform science in an engaging and informative way. A blend of backgrounds in engineering, science, the arts and improvisation. It makes me see science differently and helps me in the way I can explain and present things.

Questions about education and training


13.What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
I took English, Irish, Maths, French, German, Chemistry and Physics. I think that my languages have been really useful to me. I spend a lot of time working in international teams and knowing some languages has helped me greatly. And obviously having maths and physics helped me a lot in my science and engineering studies in university.

14.What is your education to date?
I have a PhD in Food Science and an honours bachelors and a masters degree in Biosystems engineering. I am also a graduate from the Space Studies Programme in 2015 at the International Space University.

15.What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
My background in chemistry, physics and maths has proven to be the most useful to me I think. I have had to read and study a variety of different subjects to prepare science pieces for media, in researching my theatre or family events or working with other scientists. And having this foundation in science and maths has allowed me study new areas with a reasonable grasp of the basic concepts. All my range of interdisciplinary subjects have helped me greatly in the Space Studies Programme- they encourage interdisciplinary and international outlook on space and my background has benefitted me greatly in this respect.

The diversity of Biosystems, it takes aspects from mechanical and social engineering, as well as biology and chemistry.

16.Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Yes, I believe in life-long learning and with online courses so freely available, I’m constantly learning new disciplines. I’m currently taking an astronomy and photography course online. After that, I hope to take a philosophy and motion graphics course. If you keep learning, you keep your brain well exercised.

Questions about yourself


17.What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Receiving a scholarship from ESA to attend the International Space University’s Space Studies Programme in Ohio in 2015.

18.What personal qualities do you have that help you in your career?
Humility, openness to new ideas/experiences, no fear of failure and an ability to communicate.

19.What is your dream job?
To be an astronaut.

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice


20.What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Find people who are doing what you want to do and talk to them, pick their brains, see how they did and what you can learn from them.

21.What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Passion for your subject is vital, curiosity and not to take yourself too seriously.

22.What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Seek out companies working in the space industry, or if you prefer to work in the arts, seek out a theatre company and ask to work with them for a couple of weeks.