Sophia Lee Roberts: Volunteering to support a future in the space sector!!!

#YesSheCan are very fortunate to showcase Sophia Lee Roberts, a woman who is passionate about the UK space sector!

Tell us a bit about you;
I’m currently an undergraduate student, studying Physics and Philosophy at King’s College London, but in my spare time I volunteer with a number of organisations including the Space Science and Engineering Foundation (SSEF) and the UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS).

After I graduate I’ll be looking for jobs within the UK space sector, either in the business development of space start-ups or as a project manager – I haven’t quite decided yet. It’s a really interesting area to be part of, with so much innovation and forward thinking. I really love problem solving and the thought of helping business to develop and grow in this sector is really exciting!

How did you get involved with the UK Space Sector?

I started considering a career in the space sector at school after taking part in the SSEF’s UK Space Design Competition. In my last year of sixth form I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of the EU team to go to Kennedy Space Centre for the International Finals – and it was amazing! The competition aims to simulate engineering companies competing for a project bid, and so showcases the need for a business side as well as engineers, which I think is what got me hooked. 

When I started university, I joined their space society and tried to go to as many events as possible. I ended up joining UKSEDS as a volunteer on a whim last summer, partially because I saw how fantastic their National Student Space Conference (NSSC) in Edinburgh was, but also because I wanted a new challenge to work on.  

I managed to get involved with lots of really interesting projects early on, which just made me even more enthusiastic to keep going. Around December last year, I was asked to join their executive committee as (Acting) Secretary and I ran for Vice Chair at NSSC in March!

What type of projects have you been a part of through UKSEDS?

There have been so many – the first project I started working on was for a branded card game (which is still to be released), but I’ve also had the opportunity to co-author papers about diversity and early careers in the space sector which have been presented at conferences and gone on to be published. 

I’ve also been able to travel around the country, helping at our Careers Launch event in Belfast, a one day ‘mini’ conference for students which runs in parallel to the ReInventing Space Conference; and being part of the organising committee for this year’s NSSC in Birmingham, where I chair a diversity and inclusion panel with some really amazing speakers. 

What plans do you have for UKSED coming up?

As Vice Chair I’m part of the executive committee and one of the trustees of the charity. Our job as the committee is keep the charity running by leading a team of 60+ volunteers; maintaining good relations with sponsors and other players in the space sector; and making sure we keep engaging our members and university branches though events and other opportunities.

We’re about 2 months into our 12 month term now, but we’ve already introduced a new ‘family scheme’ to help build more of a community among our volunteers, and ensured that we have an official mental health first-aider for our volunteers to go to if they need it. Our team is entirely made up of students and recent graduates, so it can sometimes be a lot to juggle volunteering with studies and work, so we think it’s really important that we look out for each other on a personal level, not just an organisational one. 

With the current pandemic situation, we’ve been trying to put out more digital resources for members including outreach projects and careers focused webinars, and this week we’ll be launching our new podcast! There are also a few new events in the pipeline for this year, primarily focusing on giving students more of a platform, but we’ll also be seeing our regular ones like NSSC, Careers Launch and Diversity in Space Careers (DISC) returning. 

In addition to that, we’ve just brought on a brilliant new Diversity Team lead, who’ll be making sure inclusion is foundational in all our areas of work and within our university branches – we already do quite well (in my opinion) with just over 50% female volunteers in a still male dominated field and by placing an emphasis on getting a diverse range of speakers, providing pronoun and communication badges at events, and organising break-out rooms at events; but there’s always more we can do to improve.

I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far and can’t wait for what’s to come!

If you’re interested in UKSEDS, click here!

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