Sheila Kanani

Being a woman from an ethnic minority has never stopped Dr Sheila Kanani from reaching for the stars – literally! Sheila is a planetary physicist who, as Diversity Officer at the Royal Astronomical Society, is a poster child for diversity in the traditionally male-dominated scientific fields of astronomy and geophysics. She is also a broadcaster, comedian, author, and teacher. Her passion and commitment to showing people the wonders of the universe drive her work in bringing science to the next generation, particularly girls and underprivileged communities.

Defining career moments?
Getting my secondary teaching qualifications, because I found it harder than getting my PhD. And getting my current position at the Royal Astronomical Society… definitely a dream job made just for me!

What gives you the greatest job satisfaction?
Teaching. Seeing the faces of young people when I teach them something amazing about science is always rewarding.

The key to success is…
Being passionate about and enjoying what you do! Sometimes when I have a down day at work, I look at all the amazing pictures we get of space and astronauts and get reinspired.

What advice do you have for balancing family and work?
Be strict with your time and make sure you set aside dedicated time for your family and the people who are important to you. As an example, I won’t check my phone or emails while on holidays.

What do you still want to learn and why?
I’ve been told I have a childlike wonder of the world. The fact that we’re tiny little dots of civilisation on this little rock going around this giant ball of gas in a giant universe filled with them is pretty mind-blowing! I’d love to learn more about our planet, its ancient creatures, like dinosaurs, aliens, the fate of the universe…

What kind of journey are you on? As a teacher I’m trying to inspire young people, to put them on the journey that they deserve.

Favourite adage/motto you live your life by and who said it?
Be kind and be nice to people. It’s not the big things that change people’s lives, it’s the little connections that make a difference.

Who or what inspires you?
British astronaut Helen Sharman is my career role model, because I wanted to be an astronaut as a teenager. My mum and my sister are inspirational people as well.

The values you most admire in others?
Self-confidence, strength, being able to talk to lots of different types of people without being horrible or rude. Appreciating that there are lots of different people out there – a cleaner is just as important as an office worker.

What causes do you lend your voice to?
I lend my voice to as many causes as possible, especially people who aren’t able to speak up for themselves. I’m very passionate about doing what’s right.

Biggest regret?
I don’t really have any. Everything teaches you something. Life is a rollercoaster, and everything you do, whether you succeed or fail, is a lesson- and that’s a positive thing!

Finish these sentences:
The future is ….. hope.
I believe…….. in the next generation.

The book / character / song / film that changed your life and why?
So many! I recently read The Midnight Library by Matt Hague. One of my fictional role models as a teenager was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If you wrote a book one day, what would it be about?
I would like to write a children’s fiction book with a girl from an ethnic minority, just like me.

What key lessons have you learnt and who taught them to you?
Be yourself, be happy and be kind. Be proud of who you are and where you come from; it’s good to be unique and different. Don’t let anyone tell you ‘no’, and don’t conform and try and do things just to fit in. I’ve learnt that from my friends and family.