Rachel Ward-Maxwell - Researcher-Programmer, Astronomy & Space Sciences at the Ontario Science Centre

CurioCity Careers
29 January 2018

Mona's Students in Lab

Rachel Ward-Maxwell

Researcher-Programmer, Astronomy & Space Sciences at the Ontario Science Centre

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and grew up in Pickering, Ontario. I have also lived in Hamilton, Ontario and Heidelberg, Germany.

I now live in: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I completed my training/education at: I completed my Bachelor's Degree with Honours in Physics and Astronomy at York University. During this time, I completed some of my university course credits during an exchange at the Ruprecht-Karls Universitaet Heidelberg. I then completed both my Masters degree and doctoral degree in Astrophysics at McMaster University.

Describe what you do at work.

My work activities vary from day to day. I am responsible for developing, updating, and maintaining public programs linked to astronomy and space sciences, including the Planetarium programs, as well as to temporary exhibitions. In my role, I research and develop new program ideas and work collaboratively with teams across departments on a variety of projects, including exhibit development and marketing and communications. I also act as a media spokesperson for the Centre for all requests related to astronomy and space.

As coordinator of the Research Live! program, where scientists conduct studies at the Centre with the participation of visitors, I work with academic researchers in a variety of disciplines to help them connect their research to the public.

Various STEM-related skills that I use on a daily basis at work include research, teaching, communication, public speaking, leadership, project and time management, scientific writing, problem solving, working on a team collaboratively and independently, and networking.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

Mona's Students in Lab

How does your job affect people’s lives?

My career is incredibly fulfilling, because I can see near immediate results of the impact my programs and presentations have, as I work directly with the public. Through this work, I am focused on sharing current science and communicating its relevance to the everyday lives of the general public.

What motivates you in your career?

Every day at my job is different, which is very energizing and engaging. I most enjoy interacting with visitors on the museum floor and sharing with them the latest news and discoveries in the world of astronomy and space. I also get excited to meet and work with new people and partner organizations to develop interactive, hands-on programs and presentations for our visitors.

I have wanted to work in science outreach and communication since I began my academic career. Having the opportunity to share my love of science with the public while also continuing to learn new things every day is very rewarding.

Also, meeting and hanging out with astronauts is pretty cool too!

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Mona's Students in Lab

Describe your career path to this career.

When I was in high school, I was trying to decide between becoming a fashion designer or a musician. Although I always loved math, it wasn't clear to me what types of careers training in STEM offered other than a lab scientist or university professor. I was also interested in astronomy, so I applied to both the music and astronomy program at various universities and ultimately decided to pursue astronomy once I had the opportunity to visit the York University Observatory (now the Allan I. Carswell Observatory). This initial visit and the mentorship of several professors at York motivated me to begin observational research projects during my undergraduate degree and pursue a post-graduate education. During this time, I was also heavily involved in astronomy and general science outreach at both York University and McMaster University. I soon realized that I needed to adjust my current career path to pursue a future outside of academia, due to my growing passion for science outreach and communication. Let's Talk Science played a major role at this turning point in the development of my career. It is through my work with Let's Talk Science - both as a volunteer and as a site coordinator at McMaster University - that I gained most of the skills which led to the job I hold today.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy watching Netflix and going to the theatre (for both stage musicals and film!). Reading has always been a passion of mine and I try to read as often as I can. I love spending time with family and friends, playing board games, going to Blue Jays games, and building Lego with my niece and nephew. I also enjoy playing softball and ballroom dancing.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

I would advise a young person interested in a similar career to work hard, be flexible, and have fun. Take advantage of any and every opportunity that interests you. Becoming comfortable with communicating with the public is key to succeed in this line of work, so look for opportunities to volunteer or work for organizations that can mentor and support your growth as a speaker and educator.

CurioCity Careers

We hope you enjoyed learning about this great STEM career! The information in this career profile was provided by this individual especially for CurioCity. We hope it helped give you a sense of what this type of job is really like.

Let’s Talk Science is pleased to provide you with this information as you explore future career options. Many careers require a background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Even jobs that don’t use specific STEM concepts on a day-to-day basis benefit from the skills gained through a study of STEM. People with a STEM background are very much in demand by employers across all career sectors. If you would like to learn about more careers that have a STEM connection, visit http://www.explorecuriocity.org/careers.

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