The Leicester alumnus helping students to realise their dreams of working in the space sector

Posted by eew17 at Dec 21, 2018 09:05 AM |
Robert Garner, Mission Analyst at the UK Space Agency, recently won a Sir Arthur Clarke Award for his development of SpaceCareers.uk

When it comes to life post-Leicester, it’s safe to say that Robert Garner’s career has really taken off, some might say astronomically.

Since graduating with his MPhys with Space Science & Technology (2014), Robert has paved out his own unique path – helping thousands of young people find their dream job in the space sector.

Last month, he was recognised at a national level with a Sir Arthur Clarke Award for his co-founding and development of SpaceCareers.uk, a careers resource designed to get students of all ages into space careers. The website was created as a project of UKSEDS, the UK’s national student space society.

“My involvement with UKSEDS came about as a student at Leicester”, Robert said, “when I was the local organiser for UKSEDS' 2014 National Student Space Conference. As President of AstRoSoc, the astronomy and rocketry society at Leicester, I led the bid to host the conference, and won. I was elected as Treasurer that year, and have been involved ever since.”

SpaceCareers.uk launched on 15 December 2015, with the aim of becoming the best space careers resource for both students and companies, and ultimately helping the UK's space sector continue to grow. The website hosts a variety of advice articles, and listings for placements, jobs and training courses for students and graduates interested in the sector.

Serving on the UKSEDS Executive Committee and Board of Trustees, Rob developed the website’s strategic plan, approached industry members to become involved, and even ran educational events and competitions across the UK (including a space software workshop at Leicester). He has also co-led the organisation of the National Student Space Conference for a number of years, and published a paper on roadblocks in the sector’s skills pipeline.

As a result Robert was nominated for, and recently won, a Sir Arthur Clarke Award in recognition of his notable contributions to the sector.

“The key for me has always been, how can we provide more opportunities to students to learn about and get involved in the space sector?”, he added, “this includes those studying specialist degrees (such as space exploration systems) and those studying subjects which aren't obviously space-related, such as geography and computer science. This was one of the key reasons we set about creating SpaceCareers.uk – to make sure there was a resource which could help people learn about and find their space career.”

“I definitely think my time at Leicester has set me on this path - I was lucky enough to have four summers’ worth of work experience through the University, and fantastic opportunities during the degree (including a group project with Airbus). I also got involved with the University's astronomy and rocketry society (AstRoSoc), which I was President of in my 4th year. This is really where I found my passion for providing opportunities to students and other young people.”

Interestingly, Robert also revealed that UKSEDS team boasts a large number of Leicester alums.

“Leicester students and alumni have had played a huge part in running and expanding UKSEDS, and creating SpaceCareers.uk”, he added. “They have been on the executive committee every year since 2012, and as far back as (to my knowledge) 1993.

“Two of the three SpaceCareers.uk co-founders (myself and Portia Bowman) are Leicester alumni, as are the two current project leaders (Heidi Thiemann and Áine O'Brien). UKSEDS are also co-hosts of the European Space Agency's Space Educational Symposium being hosted at the University of Leicester next year.”

Robert’s interest in the sector started before he came to University. “My parents arranged with a couple of academics in the Physics department (Dr Nigel Bannister and Professor Jon Lapington) for me to spend a week during year 10 (2007) at the university for work experience. Several years later, I ended up studying there!

“Apart from getting my degree, making lifelong friends (we've just gone through the first batch of weddings) and getting involved in UKSEDS – I really appreciated the chance to get involved in real science as a summer research assistant for all four summers of my degree. Firsty with Professor Jon Lapington on BepiColombo and then in 2013 receiving a grant from the department to spend a summer at the Centre for Space Nuclear Research in the USA. In my 4th year I had the opportunity to work with Dr Roland Leigh on developing networks of environmental sensors. These are the kinds of opportunities that really make a difference for future career choices, and is something I'm not really sure would be available elsewhere.

“To work on three separate projects (in three completely separate fields) was amazing - and has benefited me 100 times over since. One of the projects I worked on was BepiColombo, which has obviously just launched – so it's amazing to have been involved, even in a very small way.”

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