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Ask me anything: Joanne O’Meara – ‘there is nothing better than sharing your passion for science and seeing it ignite in someone else’

22 Sep 2021 Laura Hiscott
Taken from the September 2021 issue of Physics World. Members of the Institute of Physics can enjoy the full issue via the Physics World app.

Joanne O’Meara is professor of physics at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She has a PhD in medical physics, and has done postdoctoral research at Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her outreach activities include shows for schoolchildren and short segments on physics for the TV show Daily Planet.

Joanne O'Meara
(Courtesy: Christian Schultz-Nielsen)

What skills do you use every day in your job?

Communication is very important. I do a lot of outreach with different groups from little schoolchildren to the general public, so knowing how to modify what you’re saying for the target audience is really important, as is knowing how to make connections with them. Also, I don’t know if this is a skill, but in my teaching work empathy is hugely important for connecting with my students. Time management is also essential for organizing what I’m doing in my daily life.

What do you like best and least about your job?

What I like best is interacting with my students and doing outreach with the community. There is nothing better than sharing your passion for science and seeing it ignite in someone else. That is truly the best part of the job. The thing that I like least about my job is anything oriented towards administration – the endless forms and paperwork that need to be done in the university setting. That’s probably a common answer among academics.

What do you know today, that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?

You shouldn’t be afraid to try something new, and be open to opportunities that come along. I was trained as a medical physicist, but I’ve done research relating to a wide range of different fields, from veterinary sciences to planetary exploration. You can really benefit from just being open to ideas and being ready to jump into something, even if it’s a bit outside your comfort zone. The amazing thing about physics is that it applies to so many different things and has such scope, so you never know where it’s going to take you. That’s what makes careers in physics so interesting and ever‑changing.

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