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Gillian Wright

Director of the UK-ATC & European PI for the JWST MIRI instrument, UK
Country of Birth: Scotland

Educational Background: PhD Physics, Imperial College, University of London, UK; BSc Natural Philosophy (Physics), University of Glasgow, UK

Gillian WrightWho or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
I was interested in science from a very young age and like many growing up in the 1960s, I watched the space race with great excitement. Another key influence was a British television programme called "Tomorrow's World," which showed how science and technology would change the future for the better - my class prizes at primary school inevitably included books from that show. There was also Patrick Moore and "The Sky at Night" - on dark winter nights, identifying the constellations mentioned as I walked home from Girl Guide meetings was great fun.

What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
As Director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, I am responsible for the overall work of approximately 60 engineers and scientists. I work with academics from universities, as well as colleagues in the national labs of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. I am also the European principle investigator for the MIRI instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope, which means I lead the team that is responsible for building our share of the instrument. My work involves a stimulating mixture of scientific research, problem solving for technical issues, and people management.

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
When I started, it was still unusual and unexpected for a girl to study math and physics at university. I was just very determined to be scientist and study the subjects that interested me and I was good at. With hindsight, I see that "social attitudes" were not helpful in general. It's hard to point to specific incidents - it was the cumulative effect of many small things. The situation is different now, with great improvements particularly in the last decade.