An interview with Benjamin Shaw

Name: Benjamin ShawBenjamin Shaw

Current Job: Doctoral Researcher

Scientific Discipline/Field: Pulsar astrophysics

Country: UK

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G


Twitter: @radioquiet

What does your job involve?

I’m a radio astronomer. I used radio telescope to time pulses from pulsars. These are the remains of once-massive stars that collapsed at the end of their lives. These little stellar corpses are the size of a small city but as massive as the Sun. As they rotate, they sweep a beam of radiation around the sky like a lighthouse and every time a radio pulsar’s beam crosses the Earth, we see a radio pulse. This allows us to track the rotation of these stars very accurately and they rotate with remarkable regularity. As such they have applications as celestial clocks. My work involves trying to understand why some pulsars make better clocks than others. It involves analysing data from radio telescopes like the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank as well as making simulations of pulsar rotation. I also do a lot of astronomy outreach.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I did my Masters degree in Nuclear Astrophysics where I worked on the nuclear reactions that power explosions on neutron star surfaces. It made me want to better understand the neutron stars themselves so I got in touch with my now supervisor and the rest is history!

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

Not directly. Being “different” made me want to escape my hometown as soon as I could. This eventually led me to to new circles of people who inspired me to do what I’m doing now. Though that was a long time ago. There’s been no real direct influences. In the future though, it may make a difference. I’m not free to work anywhere in the world whilst living openly and comfortably with my partner so that potentially reduces the job opportunities available to me. I’d also think twice about attending an academic conference in a LGBT-unfriendly country.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

No reactions at all really, no one cares (so far!).

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

I wasn’t really “into” science growing up and I didn’t begin studying physics until my twenties. Growing up I wanted to be Peter Buck from R.E.M. (I still do!).

What are your plans for the future?

To keep learning and doing what interests me.

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