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Dr Jenifer Millard (MPhys 2016, PhD 2021) is a science communicator specialising in astronomy. Her work as host of the Awesome Astronomy podcast and talent for sharing her passion, has rocketed her career into TV and radio. We talked to her about her time at Cardiff and how a girl from Barry is inspiring the next generation of women in STEM.

Chatting to us from her home a few days before her 30th birthday, Jeni talks enthusiastically about her most recent projects. With an incredible list of achievements under her belt for someone so young, it’s unsurprising she was recognised in the 2022 Cardiff University 30(ish) Awards – a 30 under 30(ish) list of Cardiff’s inspirational alumni.

When talking about why she chose Cardiff University, Jeni said it was a decision based on multiple factors.

“I knew that Cardiff University’s Physics and Astronomy department was world-leading,” she acknowledged. “They do astonishing work in all areas of physics and astronomy, and I really wanted to be part of the best.”

“I was really, really pleased to be able to go somewhere that was so well respected around the world, but also close to home. Because I love my family.” Jeni told us.

Even though she enjoyed being close to home, this didn’t stop Jeni from taking full advantage of life at Cardiff and making lifelong friends. “I’m still really close with many of the people I met at Cardiff, both during my undergrad and PhD. In fact, some of my best friends are people I met at university,” she admitted.

Jeni remembers her time at Cardiff fondly, attributing the development of the skills she uses today, to her undergraduate degree.

“I had training from Cardiff University as I was helping with Open Days and doing public engagement at the National Museum,” she recalled fondly. “I had my first radio experience at Cardiff as well. So, doing all of that, having that training whilst having those interactions with the public at these events, made me realise that I really like doing outreach.”

Dr Jenifer Millard (MPhys 2016, PhD 2021)

The love of astronomy started early on in Jeni’s life. “I think I’ve always had a really inquisitive mind, but in terms of getting into astronomy, it’s entirely my dad’s fault,” she laughed. “My dad has always had a passionate interest in astronomy, but no formal education in it, and when I was about eight, he showed me the Moon through his telescope.”

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I could see the shadows of the craters, the mountain ranges, and the valleys, and it just suddenly came to life.”

As well as her work on the Awesome Astronomy podcast, Jeni works as managing editor and article writer for Fifth Star Labs – the company behind the stargazing app Sky Guide. Alongside this, she continues to be a presenter on BBC’s Weatherman Walking series with fellow Barry native Derek Brockway.

When talking about her current roles, Jeni often can’t believe it’s happening. “I do pinch myself sometimes because I feel very lucky that I love my job, and I genuinely love what I do,” she admitted.

Coming from Barry in South Wales, Jeni is proud to represent her hometown through her podcasting, television, and radio work. “Sometimes I do just feel like a girl from Barry, and yet I’ve done some amazing things in my career. I don’t want that to sound big-headed, but I am really proud of what I’ve done.”

Whilst recognising her own achievements, Jeni is very aware of the role she plays as a woman working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy doing TV work. So that I can be that person who’s on screen and other girls say ‘oh my gosh, she’s a girl, she’s from a small town. Look at what she’s doing - maybe I can do that too?’”

Jeni gave her own advice to any woman looking to pursue a career in STEM. “I always encourage any girl to go into STEM if that’s what you want to do - follow your dreams and do what makes you happy. If you want to be an astronomer, a chemist, a physicist, or engineer, go and do it. Be the change.”

Jeni is making intergalactic waves in the field of astronomy and has found a unique way of bringing the secrets of the stars to a new audience. Her enthusiasm, passion, and talent for making even the most complex of topics accessible for all, is inspiring a new generation of astronomers and physicists.

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