Natalie Starkey

  College: University College
  Subject: MSci. Geological Sciences     
  Class of: 2005
  Location: East Anglia

Your Durham Inspiration

Do you remember why you first chose to study at Durham?

I was very excited about the possibility of living in a castle as it seemed like such an adventure and I also liked the idea of the collegiate system.

Tell us about any sports, societies or clubs you were involved in at Durham.

I have always been sporty and happy to try out new things so when I saw that my college had a rowing club, I thought I’d give it a go. It was such a great opportunity to learn a new skill and I loved the camaraderie of being part of a team and training hard. Sure, the early mornings were hard, especially in the winter when we were literally cracking ice off the oars, but it was the perfect activity to do before sitting in a cosy lecture theatre for the rest of the day.

What work or moment were you were most proud of at Durham?

I am most proud of the fieldwork part of my mapping dissertation as part of my 3rd year of geology. Myself and two friends decided we’d go abroad for our project, choosing southern Spain. However, the summer of 2003 went down on record as one of the hottest in recorded history and we quickly discovered that learning to map geology in the field wasn’t just about the rocks, we had to learn how to look after ourselves from heat exhaustion and even snakes! We had a brilliant summer and such an adventure. Plus, I got a First for my dissertation, which made all the bug bites and many miles trekked in 40-degree heat all the more worth it.

What are your fondest memories from your time here?

Some of my fondest memories are related to fieldwork for my geology course and how I made friends for life. We got the opportunity to travel from the wilds of Scotland to the southern tip of Africa and even into a diamond mine in Lesotho. Learning about the formation of the Earth from such beautiful, and sometimes exotic, locations forged my love of Earth science surrounded by people who had similar interests.

How has Durham inspired you to get to where you are today?

As part of the dissertation for my MSci. my supervisor put me in touch with a scientist working at an active volcano in the Caribbean. I got the opportunity to travel there to collect rock samples that I analysed for my research and have since visited the volcanic island to work as a volcanologist. Without this experience I would never have continued studying volcanoes and got to where I am today, eventually writing a book about volcanoes in space.

What have you been up to since you left Durham?

After I left Durham I decided to continue in geology research, completing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh studying ancient volcanoes in the arctic, followed by further research positions at The Open University in space science. I decided to then follow my dreams of becoming a writer and science communicator, have since written two popular science books with Bloomsbury, become a podcast science host, and written a planetarium space show for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I also work with the Open University as a Public Engagement Officer for Physical Sciences.

What are you doing that is most meaningful to you now?

Working with young people as a science communicator is one of the most meaningful things to have come from my career in science. I’ve had a lifelong love of science and I enjoy speaking to the public and school children about the wonders of science and my experiences of being a scientist. My work with groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science is especially important as I love to show how science is for everyone, and I generally find there is always a part of science that they will love too.

Is there anything from Durham that has stayed with you and still inspires you now?

Living in a castle was so exciting. During my science research career when I worked on space dust collected by NASA, I was able to name each sample myself and I chose to use castle names from the United Kingdom. Durham Castle was saved for my most precious sample, a little piece of a comet.

Tell us about your latest news or developments.

My new book about space volcanoes is out in 2021 and I’m very excited to share it with readers.

Personal interests

Swimming and dogs!

Pass It On

What would be your top piece of advice for current students and/or recent graduates?

Take chances and opportunities that come your way even if you aren’t sure whether they are going in the right direction. I’ve done a number of internships over the years at different career stages to try out new things. These have allowed me to work in industry, on the side of an active volcano and even as a journalist for the Guardian. Short forays into new career fields have helped me develop my career and learn new skills.

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when graduating?

Your degree doesn’t necessarily need to define you. I moved research fields from geology to space science then changed completely to become a writer and science communicator. I think it is about using your learning and experiences at university to figure out exactly what you want to pursue in the future – whether that be closely related to your studies or something completely different.

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