Philippe Reekie

Philippe Reekie is a Communication and Outreach Specialist at the Center for Astrophysics (Harvard & Smithsonian). 

As a young adult in London, I found myself knee-deep in conspiracy theories, anti-science nonsense, and fake news. Moon landing? Nah, that was a Hollywood setup. Mayan prediction for the end of the world? Absolutely! Egyptian pyramids? Aliens obviously. Flat Earth? Well, I gave it some thought. Birds are government drones? Maybe a stretch too far.  Fast forward, and here I am, a Science Communicator and Outreach Specialist at Harvard College Observatory, the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston. How did that happen? How did I transition from predicting a doomsday in December 2012 to now fighting misinformation and encouraging critical and rational thinking? This is the difference that a university education made for me.

It’s a convoluted story. After dabbling in a Business Management degree, then a Law degree – and dropping out from both, I tried an eclectic mix of jobs – Security Officer, Pianist, AV Salesman, Makeup Marketeer, Juggling Entertainer, Bartender, Furniture Consultant, Badminton Instructor – even a stint as a Massage Salon Specialist. I was searching for something meaningful and getting nowhere. Life seemed bleak, and I knew I needed a major change.

Despite my misinformed beliefs, I was always obsessed with science, especially space science. I couldn’t quiet the big questions buzzing in my head – Where do we come from? Why does the universe exist? Is there life beyond Earth? In 2012, I applied for a BSc in Planetary Science with Astronomy at Birkbeck, University of London. Prior to this application, my science and maths education had peaked at two D grades at 16 (along with seven other Ds and one E in French). On top of this, I had already dropped out of university twice. My Birkbeck interviewer was rightfully sceptical about my application. “Science is hard, you know,” he said. I pleaded, and to my surprise, he accepted me. Even with the official offer in my hand, I seriously thought about cancelling my application. Thank goodness, “fear of missing out” won me over.

Four years later, I proudly held a diploma that read “First Class Honours in Planetary Science with Astronomy.” I went from being a Moon-landing tinfoil hat sceptic to geeking out about lunar geochemistry and actively battling misinformation. I’d also become a believer in the transformative power of education and accessible learning for everyone.

I went on to obtain an MScR degree and then begin a PhD at the University of Edinburgh’s UK Centre for Astrobiology, focused on the possibility of finding life on Mars. It was exciting: I was publishing papers, having coffee with NASA folks, and being interviewed by The Guardian and various science podcasts about life beyond Earth and human colonization of the Moon. However, I came to the realization that research wasn’t my true calling. My passion lies in engaging with the public and promoting science education and careers, especially for those underrepresented in STEM fields. In the words of Carl Sagan: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” 

Today, at Harvard University and the Charles Hayden Planetarium, I’m living my dream. I’ve found a sense of purpose – to reach those curious minds, young and old, and to kindle a lifelong love for learning. The curious child in me, once susceptible to the claws of misinformation, continues to drive me. I won’t let him down. I’ve found purpose in using science and education to make the world slightly better than when I first stepped onto this cosmic stage. That’s what university has meant to me.