Occupation: Scientist, mechanical engineer and science communicator
Challenges overcome: Dyslexia
Successes, Achievements & Awards:
Margaret Ebunoluwa “Maggie” Aderin-Pocock, MBE now known as Maggie, was born in London to Nigerian parents. Margaret attended La Sainte Union Convent School in North London and gained four A-Levels in maths, physics, chemistry and biology. She attended Imperial College London, earning a BSc in physics in 1990 and a doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1994.
Diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of eight, young Maggie started out hating school. She says, “It didn’t agree with me. I used to sit at the back of the classroom and sort of skulk a bit. Because of my dyslexia, my reading and writing weren’t very good at all.”
Maggie expresses she was lucky because she got inspired by science, and she had an aptitude for it. Although dyslexic and struggled with reading and writing she can remember the first time she was in class and the teacher asked a question—it was a very simple question—‘If you take a litre of water and one litre of water weights, 1 kg, how much will 1 cubic centimetre weigh?’ she sat there in the class, and I put up my hand. It was quite obvious that it was one gram. She was the only one in class to put her hand up and even though she felt unconfident she thought what the heck and answered the question and she was right. She apparently couldn’t believe that she could get the question right because she thought she was not clever because she was in the remedial class and always sat at the back of the class. Maggie started reading about science in school and at home and suddenly her marks started to go up and she attributes this to being so interested in the subject it became her passion
Although Maggie’s father wanted her to go into medicine she was more interested in physics. She thought physics was the study of everything. When she first started studying physics, she thought she was “going to be the next Einstein. Theoretical Physics was the area of physics Maggie preferred but as she studied and did the mathematics she realised that as a dyslexic child that just wasn’t going to happen. She found she was more practical, more hands-on. A telescope-making class she took as a teenage became the springboard leading to Maggie specialising in optics in the last year of her undergraduate studies, and continued her studies in that area when an optics project in the mechanical engineering department came up, and she decided to get her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.
After a post at the British Ministry of Defence, working on a missile warning system, and then getting promoted to working on land mind detection, she went on to work at what she calls her “favourite job.” She applied for and was accepted to work on the Gemini Telescope in Chile. She managed a team of 17 people to build a spectrograph for the telescope and then she spent six months putting it together in the foothills of the Andes. She says,
“To work on a telescope like this was just fantastic,” she says. “As a child growing up, I wanted to reach the stars, but by making this instrument, I was doing the next best thing. I could look into the hearts of stars.”
Although she’s still hoping to one day make it to space, Maggie has her hands full at the moment. Until the birth of her now three-year-old daughter, she was working as a space scientist at Astrium Limited; and she continues to work as a science communicator at University College London on documentaries like the BBC’s Do We Really Need the Moon? Since 2013, she has presented BBC’s monthly documentary television program on astronomy called The Sky at Night. Maggie is a guest speaker to thousands of children, inspiring them to reach for their own dreams, where she is hoping to encourage and grow the next generation of scientists. She and her husband, Martin, who is also an engineer, noticed a lack of strong, passionate scientists when looking to recruit new hires for their projects. Concerned that science was taking the back seat to other academic and not so academic pursuits Maggie has taken it upon herself to reach out to young people and tell them about her career and the importance of scientific research. Her passion and ability to make her work accessible and fun will no doubt be her greatest asset in this endeavour.
Maggie has talked to more than 100,000 young people in her initiative. Maggie does not fill this scientific stereotype very well but she is exactly what science needs as a spokeswoman for its cause and advancement. Maggie believes that role models should be real people referencing one of her heroes, Marie Curie, she talks about role models:
“Role models should be real people; if you have a role model who is, or is perceived as, a superwoman, then people think, ‘Well, that’s not me, I can’t aspire to be that.’ All her endeavours to talk to young people revolves around giving them a real role model. When Maggie talks to young people, she tells them that it’s okay to dream, and it’s okay to fail.
“Failing isn’t a problem—interesting things happen along the way, as any entrepreneur will tell you. After all, I haven’t actually become an astronaut, but I still hope, and in the meantime, I do get to space with the instruments and technology I help create. Dreams don’t show up on government surveys or school league tables, but they are the fuel that makes us want to get up and get on. For young people to feel that the low road is the only one available to them is nonsense. We won’t climb out of recession, or meet the challenges of climate change, by thinking small.”
In 2009 Maggie Aderin-Pocock was honoured as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her work as a science communicator, breaking down complex scientific issues into simple information that everyone can understand, and for her outreach to young people. She marvels at the honour,
“Imagine a dyslexic from London meeting the queen of England. It’s mind-boggling stuff, but that shows how much potential you have.”
She also was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Staffordshire University in 2009 for contributions to the field of science education. Maggie is now a Space Scientist and a research fellow in UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies and an Honorary Research Associate in UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy
Maggie Aderin-Pocock was a very young girl when she decided she loved looking up at the stars in the sky and she loved a British television stop-animation series called The Clangers. It’s debatable as to which inspired her dream of becoming a space scientist more but one thing is sure the passion Maggie had for space ignited a career and helped her overcome her dyslexia.
Dyslexia, also known as alexia or developmental reading disorder, is characterised by difficulties when learning to read and with differing language comprehension despite normal or above-average intelligence. This includes difficulty with phonological awareness, phonological decoding, processing speed, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory, language skills and verbal comprehension, or rapid naming of objects. Dyslexia only affects some skills and abilities and is not linked to a person’s general level of intelligence.
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The Yale Centre of Dyslexia and Creativity, http://dyslexia.yale.edu/aderinpocock.html
Maggie Aderin-Pocock. (2015, April 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, Feb 15, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Maggie_Aderin-Pocock&oldid=656351980