Owen Johnson – BSc (Astrophysics)

Owen wears his graduation robes and cape.

While studying astrophysics, Owen Johnson has kept busy at UCD, finding time to lead the Science Society, work a variety of jobs, travel abroad, and be an Access Leader amongst other achievements. Now he looks forward to his next steps after graduation.


Owen Johnson has what he calls “a very UCD-centric backstory”.


He has Spina Bifida and in fifth year, while attending physiotherapy at Enable Ireland, his Physiotherapist, Shane, recommended that he try out the ‘Future You Summer School’ at UCD. At that point he knew he was interested in STEM, but UCD hadn’t been on his radar. He loved the camp, especially the experience of science, and UCD became his number one choice on the CAO.


When he arrived at UCD, he wanted to give back his time and became an Access Leader, working at Summer Camps and events to inspire people from diverse backgrounds to explore higher education. He also got very involved with UCD student life and societies.


“Especially for people with disabilities, it can be quite intimidating to go and do things a lot of the time. For me, it was always jumping in the deep end. 110% all of the time. I think that worked out really well for me but that might not necessarily work out for everyone.”


“Get involved and talk to people and find what you like. Once you find somewhere in UCD that’s like your home…the groups that you gel with really well, you’re flying at that point. It all comes together in the end.”


Thanks to the team at the Access and Lifelong Learning Centre, Owen found that there was support available to help him take advantage of the full college experience.


“UCD’s very good at making sure that barriers aren’t a thing, in my experience…for me everything always felt like a very level playing field.”


Owen made some fantastic memories during his time at UCD, especially through his involvement in the Science Society. He joined in second year acting as a graphic designer, and made friends with everyone on the committee. 


“We did the Science Society cycles from Dublin to Galway to raise money for Crumlin Children’s Hospital. Being involved with that –  organising it, and then actually cycling and doing the event while raising money in the process – was huge.” 


In 2021, Owen was elected Auditor of the Science Society and had to quickly reimagine how events could take place online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so he set up a new online competition.


“We founded the Irish National Science Championships: We got all the universities together to submit teams, and did knockout rounds of science categories and questions. We actually were really lucky that we got Dara O’Briain to host the final of it too.”


Owen was keen to support himself financially throughout college. He did freelance graphic design for clients, and picked up some networking engineering jobs on the side.


“I come from a farming background. I always wanted to support myself as much as I could through college, and not put as much pressure on my parents. But I also wanted to partake in my college life, so I took on maybe a little bit more than I could chew, working part-time jobs to help pay for my tuition and rent and then doing all the society stuff.”


He also worked as a Research Assistant for Berkeley SETI Research Center, where his passion for research developed.


“In third year I took on an internship with the University of California, Berkeley, and that was paid as well, so that I helped quite a bit. And then I actually returned: I worked for them throughout fourth year and [went back] this summer as well.”


While working in California this summer, six of Owen’s friends from Science at UCD came over to visit him and they all went travelling together around America.


None of this college experience would have been possible without the love and support of his family. “Follow your dreams” was the advice his parents and sister gave to him, and they supported him in doing just that.


To his classmates in the close-knit astrophysics Class of 2022, Owen expressed his appreciation of their camaraderie.


“Thanks for carrying me through, guys. None of us would have gotten through the degree without each other… We were all really good friends by the end of it, and everyone got on really well. I firmly believe that if we could get through fourth year…we’ll all be fine in whatever we pursue after.”