Name: Dr Marek Kukula
Research institution: Royal Observatory, Royal Museums Greenwich
Research career length: 13 years
Research Council: Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Location: London, England
Brief summary of research: Galaxy evolution and active galaxies. Now working as a science communicator
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, General Studies
‘O’ levels: English Language, Mathematics, French, History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Electronics, Computer
Studies, English Literature
BSc in Physics with Astrophysics, University of Manchester
PhD in Radio Astronomy at Jodrell Bank Observatory
Postdoctoral positions at Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Edinburgh, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA, and a PPARC Advanced Fellowship
Course Organiser for Science and Nature at the University of Edinburgh’s Office of Lifelong Learning
UK Project Manager for Researchers in Residence, a nationwide scheme funded by Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust
Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich
Marek Kukula belongs to a growing number of researchers who choose to develop their communications skills to engage the public with their work. For Marek, experiencing the wonder and excitement of posing questions that no-one had asked before, has now developed into a whole new career in which he communicates some of that wonder to inspire others.
In my current job, I have responsibility for bringing contemporary astronomy research to a wider audience through the Royal Observatory's exhibitions and public programmes. My work is diverse and includes developing public exhibitions, and planning and delivering programmes of talks and astronomy activities. I spend some of my time working with journalists and broadcasters, as well as talking about astronomy to the public, media and cultural organisations. I train scientists so that they too can communicate their work to non-experts. I also assist with the Observatory’s schools programme.
When we try to understand how galaxies like our own Milky Way were formed, we're filling in pieces of a puzzle about how the Universe got to be the way it is today. So research in astronomy fills in new chapters in the story of who we are and how we fit into the Universe. But astronomy research also helps us to understand more about the laws of nature that govern our everyday lives, through study of some of the most extreme and violent processes in the Universe, such as black holes and supernovae.
Having gained a degree in Physics with Astrophysics, and a PhD in Radio Astronomy, my early career path was quite standard. I held a few postdoctoral research positions in the UK and USA, and a senior Fellowship in the UK. Being an astronomy academic meant that I travelled a lot, both to use telescopes in remote and exotic locations like Chilean mountains and the tops of extinct volcanoes, and to share ideas at scientific conferences all over the world. I also had the chance to live and work in the USA for two years, which was very exciting and a great experience.
I was very lucky to have parents who always encouraged me to learn and who fostered my interest in science and nature. I attended a comprehensive school with some excellent teachers in all subjects, who also encouraged me to learn and fulfil my potential. I remember some important advice from a family friend that has stayed with me. They said that it was fine to specialise in either the sciences or the humanities, but that I should always be open to both.
There are lots of good things about being a researcher. You have many opportunities to think deep thoughts, and you have a lot of control over how you spend your time, but there's also a surprising amount of teamwork with science colleagues, engineers, technicians, students and others. You also get to work alongside people from other countries and different cultures, who all share the same curiosity about the Universe.