Mark Langtry is the Head of Science and Sport at Explorium – Ireland’s National Science Centre. A theoretical physicist by background, Mark is an educator, TV presenter, broadcaster, science communicator, former professional footballer and an award-winning educational content creator and producer.
- What was your UCD experience like?
I’ve spent a third of my life in UCD. That’s a lot of chicken fillet rolls from Centra. I wouldn’t have spent so long there if I didn’t think it was a good place to be. UCD that is….not Centra. UCD provided me with an environment and structure to really be who I wanted to be, to make the choices I wanted to make, and to develop into the person I wanted to become. Either directly, through the support of staff and lecturers, the facilities, or indirectly, through the lessons I learned from the opportunities I took during my time there.
I was lucky to have been granted a soccer scholarship, which helped me play and study at the highest level possible. Studying theoretical physics had its own challenges, and when you add in the usual extracurricular activities – that’s certainly enough of an experience.
I really enjoyed getting involved with all the clubs in UCD, the craic around campus, various events, soirées at student residences, and creating my own style of mischief. I balanced playing professional football with my studies and classes, and that can be a tough balance to maintain. It was made possible, and enjoyable, by my fantastic and supportive lecturers in the School of Physics and UCD Soccer Club.
- What is your fondest memory from your time at UCD?
I find it’s always the small, simple things I remember the most. Times with friends, endless laughter, ridiculous adventures, long nights studying. There is one week, in particular, that stands out. It involved captaining the soccer team to the university cup, penalty shootouts, last-minute winners, getting college player of the year, sitting my exams, and a fashion show thrown in there because why not. That was some week I tell ya, I’m still recovering!
- How did you end up in your current area of work as a celebrity scientist?
Everyone has unique skills and gifts to bring to the world. The challenge is to believe in yourself, and have the courage to follow your own path, not the one society says you should follow.
During secondary school, I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. A ridiculous task for any 16 year old who could barely decide what he wanted for breakfast tomorrow. After too much thinking, and with time running out, I decided to instead take what I thought was a risk at the time, to choose to study something I enjoyed – in this case, maths and physics, with no idea of where it would bring me, or what job I would get.
I chose to pursue my interests, and see where that would lead me. It is something I continue to do. I no longer see it as a risk, but as a necessity. If you keep doing that, you’ll end up on a path you are happy with and working on things you are passionate about.
- You seem to have found a perfect balance between sport and science – is that as easy as you make it look?
I think they are both broader aspects of what everyone should aim for; a healthy body and mind. Within that, do whatever you like. I love soccer and science, and they go together so well. And the real enjoyment came from the crossovers between the two, which I discovered during my time as a student volunteering with the Institute of Physics. Finding a way to combine your passions is awesome and worth doing, and is a large part of my work today.
I am inspired by how well young people these days are managing to do this. Finding their way, and if there’s no path, making one. There’s never been a better time in history to follow your dreams. It requires creativity, innovation, belief and hard work.
- You are Head of Science and Sport at Explorium – can you tell our readers about the work of Explorium?
Explorium’s mission is to inspire, inform and educate. It is a highly interactive, transformative venue for people of all ages to learn about the world around them, the importance of science and its role in our daily lives and our future, and to develop skills and abilities to discover the limitless potential within themselves. There are hundreds of STEM-themed exhibits and experiences that can provide visitors with an opportunity to find their passion, to find out what excites them and makes them feel alive.
- What interests you the most about your job?
The positive impact and influence you can have on someone through something you have created, that gives them a new experience, that either teaches them something about the world, or about themselves, that they can use, either immediately or down the line, to transform their own lives, or transform the lives of others.
The diverse, creative ways of trying to engage and connect with people are always a fulfilling and exciting adventure. Coming up with an idea, figuring out how to do it, and then executing it, is extremely satisfying. You can end up creating a 360° roller coaster bicycle, a stage show on the physics of breakdancing, a machine that shoots out bolts of lightning, a robotic goalkeeper or a bed of nails.
- What do you think your career priorities will be in 10 years’ time?
I have no idea what type of person I’ll even be in 5 years time, so I think it’s more useful to be guided by your qualities as a person, rather than career desires. Hopefully, a career guided by the same priorities I have always had and making a positive impact on the world, be it with my family, locally, or globally.
- What is a typical working day like for you?
I wake up, feed my cat, and have breakfast. Most days are different, some completely bonkers, some extremely quiet, but always full of creativity and learning. I could be designing a new science exhibit, creating a live science show, researching a new project, filming a video, creating a TV show, performing on stage, planning with my team, hosting an event, dodging meetings, ignoring emails, getting hit in the face with a million volts of lightning, blowing something up, teaching classes, managing our education team, setting off the fire alarm, and laughing a lot. By this time I’d probably have lunch. Learning and laughter are the two important ingredients that must be part of every day for me.
- What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
I try to enjoy the present and look forward, I don’t look back too often, but what makes me proud in general is seeing people, young and old, engage positively with something I’ve created. Be it a physical exhibit, a TV show, a learning experience, workshop, talk or lesson. Seeing them take something from it, that they can use to improve their own lives and experience of living. That motivates me every day. Sometimes, it may only be a smile you get, but no impact is too small. When you spark someone’s curiosity and then give them the tools to explore it, this can lead them anywhere they desire. The potential is limitless.
I also particularly liked being able to show my family what I had been working on all day and night for years when Explorium opened. That did make me proud, and also confirmed to my mother that I wasn’t lying all those nights saying I was busy working. Fairly sure she thought I had just lost the plot.
‘Let’s Find Out’, the RTE & SFI science TV series I present makes me very proud. A fantastic team of people, inspiring the next generation of curious kids with engaging and entertaining educational content.
- How has your career impacted the way in which you see the world?
I would say the way in which I see the world has impacted my career. Understanding our place in the universe; living on one small planet, the only one we know of that is suitable for human life, in a solar system, in a galaxy of billions of other galaxies. We all know that, don’t we? Very few act like we know that. Perspective changes how you view yourself, your life, your choices, and how you treat others.
- What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their career?
Aim for happiness, above all else. Have the courage to be yourself, even in the toughest of times. Let people know what you think. Let them know who you are. Relentlessly pursue your dreams. You will eventually attract the right opportunities, the right people, and end up doing the work you really believe in. You’ll end up happier in work, and happier in life. And the sooner you realise how much that matters, the better.
- What is life outside work like?
The line between my work and life can be blurry, given the type of job I have. I choose to work on things I like, so what I do in my spare time is very similar to what I do at work. I need adventure, creative expressions and love new experiences, so I try to create as many as I can.
- What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s maybe not the best, but it has certainly been useful. It can’t be attributed to one person, rather a message, that I have picked up from good people. Before a big moment, or a moment that makes you nervous, maybe it’s an exam, or you’re heading out onto the pitch, before the cameras start recording, before a presentation – relax in knowing that you have done the hard work. You’ve done it, you’ve put it in, you’ve trained, studied, sacrificed, and turned up.
There’s only one catch. You must put in the work. That goes without saying. If you want to succeed, be more relaxed, be more confident, have less anxiety, and enjoy the challenges, then you must put in the work and when the moment comes, that’s your time.
- Describe yourself in three words.
I could give you 3 words that have been shouted at me, but you’d never be allowed to print them!
Twitter: @MarkLangtry (https://twitter.com/marklangtry)
Instagram: @MarktheScienceGuy (https://www.instagram.com/mark_thescienceguy)