Careers in science
Professor of Physics, Director of MSSL and Head, UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics
Reader in Astronomy
Lecturer in Astronomy
Research Fellow in Solar Physics
Cluster II Research Fellow
Research Fellow in Cryogenics
Research Fellow in Astrophysics
PhD Student in Solar Physics
PhD Student in Astrophysics
Cassini Research Assistant
Introduction to careers in space research
Careers in engineering
Careers in computing and administration
Sources of further information
Name: Cynthia James
Job title: Research Fellow in Astrophysics
What education and qualifications do you have?
12 ÎOâ-levels (1956-1957), Membership of the Society of Radiographers (diagnostic) (1961), BA Open University (1st Class; 1987), PG diploma in Computing for Commerce and Industry (OU, 1993), MPhil Astronomy (UCL, 2001)
Give an outline of your career so far; why did you choose this career path?
Left school, 1957: ÎAâ-level dropout; because I wanted to do ÎAâ-level Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Physics, but I wasnât allowed to do physics in less than 3 years.
Scientific assistant in the Met. Office, 1958: Intended to study for A-levels at evening classes and then go on to university. Left when I realized that (at that time) there was no hope of service on a weathership for a woman!
Radiography student at Guyâs Hospital, 1959-1961: Chose radiography, because it was applied physics and I was interested in photography and people.
Radiographer (full and part time), 1961-1978: Worked at Guyâs, Eastman Dental, East Surrey Hospital, Redhill General and Crawley hospitals. Enjoyed my work, but finally found its scope was rather limiting.
Studied for a 1st degree with the OU (part time), 1975-1988: Studied Maths, Physics and Computing. I needed to raise my level of general education so that I could find fulfilling work outside of radiography. The OU way gave me this opportunity whilst still supporting my family.
Computer Analyst Programmer in the Civil Service, 1978-1983: Found that I enjoyed my computing studies so I made my career change in this direction.
Systems implementation officer and then systems programmer (British Gas), 1983-1987: My intended career path was towards more scientific applications, and I hoped that these posts could help me in that direction. Sometimes one follows a rather meandering path towards oneâs goals!
Studied for a post-graduate computing diploma (OU) (part time), 1985-1994: To increase my effectiveness in my work and to help me move to more scientific applications in due course.
Database Administrator (BT), 1987-1996: Well paid, secure job with good pension deal. I now needed to consider such things seriously. I wasnât getting any younger!
Studied for an MPhil in Astronomy at MSSL, 1996-2001: A very good voluntary redundancy package from BT gave me the opportunity to finance myself through a higher degree. Astronomy seemed to be a good choice, because I had enjoyed the astronomy-biased modules during my degree studies. Also it is a field with opportunities for continued involvement beyond normal retirement age.
Research Fellow at MSSL 2001-? I have found space and satellites exciting since the time of Sputnik in the late 1950s!
What does your current work involve?
I am part of the calibration team for XMMâs Optical Monitor and currently I am involved with allocating a wavelength scale to data from the optical grism filter (a cross between a prism and grating spectroscope). I also copy and keep track of XMM data CDROMs and write/maintain a few web pages.
Hobbies and interests outside work
I am a keen birdwatcher and carry out fieldwork for the British Trust for Ornithology. I have retained my early interest in photography and I am now studying for a City and Guilds qualification, which should also give me licentiateship of the RPS. I also enjoy other outdoor activities such as walking, camping and sailing. I have two grand children who I donât see as often as I would like, since they live in Bristol which makes it at least a dayâs outing to visit them.