Dr Sima Adhya has worked for NASA and the European Space Agency on techniques to deflect asteroids from Earth. Now a space mission risk analyst at Sciemus in London, she wants more girls to have science careers

What first sparked your interest in science and aerospace?

I thought science held the answer to the big questions such as why we are here and how the universe was created. I don't have those answers yet, but have learnt many interesting things along the way. I also had some inspiring teachers.

Sima Adhya

Where did you go from there?

I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, and completed a PhD at UCL on the effects of sunlight on satellite orbital motion. I enjoyed this and wanted to continue in the satellite/space field, but didn't want to stay in academia, so I looked at jobs in industry and started working on an asteroid deflection project in Qinetiq's Space division. After a couple of years I moved to Sciemus as senior technical officer.

Explain your current role

I provide technical advice for placing insurance on satellites. This involves looking at how risky space missions are and assessing the likelihood of them meeting their mission objectives. This allows us to decide how much the satellite operator should pay; the more reliable the satellite, the lower the insurance.

For a satellite already in orbit, we look at data relating to the performance of systems on the satellite, such as the solar panels and the propulsion system, to see how healthy the satellite is. We also use a computer model called Spacerat we developed in conjunction with Qinetiq to analyse the satellite's reliability.

What prompted the move into finance?

In many ways, it was accidental. Qinetiq did consultancy work for Sciemus. I realised my background was relevant to this part of the finance world, and there was an opportunity to do some interesting work. Sciemus was looking to expand its technical team, so it worked out perfectly.

Tell us about the work you do to promote science careers

I am an ambassador for the British Council, which sends me to various countries to talk to school pupils about science, space and my job. I had an interesting experience in a remote region of South Africa recently, where the teachers didn't want me to talk about the Big Bang as it conflicted with their beliefs that the world was created only 6,000 years ago, which is what they taught. This made me realise how important it is that young people have access to scientific ideas so they can make their own decisions.

Why do you think it is so hard to get girls interested in science as a career and what can be done to improve matters?

There is a lack of female role models. Also, science is often considered difficult and boring, a view perpetuated by the stereotype of the "techie" associated with people in this field. This stereotype needs to be addressed, which is one reason I like to tell young people about my job. And I think if society placed more value on scientists' contribution to the economy, then more people would be drawn to science.

Do you come across glass ceilings or other barriers for women scientists and engineers in industry?

I haven't come across any so far. Sometimes women are in a small minority. Often I'm the only female at a meeting, but that can help as you stand out if you are different, giving the opportunity to show what you can do.

What advice would you give to girls thinking about a career in science or aerospace?

Go for it. You never know what opportunities are going to present themselves. Try and get work experience as it will give you a feel for whether it is right for you.

Source: Flight International