Jatan Mehta is a science communicator passionate about humanity’s future in space. He write articles on space exploration and science for Indian as well as global publications. In addition, he builds informative websites and does public speaking on space topics. His portfolio is at jatan.space and Twitter is @uncertainquark.
India’s prominence in the space race has raised eyebrows across the world, inspired several entrepreneurial space ventures and incited many young students. But Space is not just about research!
Jatan Mehta, our next pathbreaker, is an independent Science Communicator who has published professional articles on Space Exploration for digital publications like The Wire, The Planetary Society, etc.
Jatan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the realization that he enjoyed writing about space exploration a lot more than doing research and how his quest to become a Science Communicator inspired him to start blogging on space exploration which led to several interesting roles in the space sector as well as a premier research institute.
A must read for students interested in space careers!
Jatan, tell us about your initial years and how you got interested in space.
I grew up in Mumbai and studied under the Maharashtra State Board until High School. For no apparent reason whatsoever, my school used to omit certain chapters from the physics syllabus in grades 5th, 6th and 7th. This made me curious about the omitted topics and I came to know that those chapters were related to space. So after I passed grade 7, curiosity got the better out of me and I decided to read those chapters. It was utterly fascinating as a kid and I wanted to know more. At this point my dad got me a subscription to a local library. I read every book they had on space exploration. Naturally, that ignited the spark to pursue it as a career.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I studied physics for my bachelors and masters because I wanted to become an astrophysicist. As part of my second year in physics postgrad, I took astrophysics as a specialization and pursued research in it for a year after.
How did you kickstart your career?
While I was doing research on astrophysics right after my masters, I was writing weekly blogs on the side. I always liked writing articles to explain science to the public and had been casually doing that for five to six years at this point. Except this time around my Medium blog really took off and I started getting thousands of followers.
That is when TeamIndus, a private aerospace company building a Moon landing mission similar to Chandrayaan 2, reached out to me. They wanted me to join the team and write articles on the science and tech of their Moon mission for the masses. Of course I said yes!
Tell us about your career path. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Not long after joining TeamIndus as a science writer, it was apparent that because of my physics background, I could contribute in technical ways too. I was promoted as a Science Officer and was responsible for gathering science requirements for their first and future Moon missions.
As part of it, I worked with several scientists, trying to understand what kind of research activities the community intended to carry out on the Moon and how that could affect our spacecraft design or vice versa. An interesting aspect along the same lines was to identify the best landing sites for our Moon lander where scientists would get the most bang for the buck. But the challenge was that the landing sites also had to meet engineering requirements like having a smooth enough terrain, Earth visibility, power availability, etc. So to accommodate those needs, I worked with data from NASA satellites and it was cool!
All this while, I continued writing blogs on space exploration. It is around this time that I started publishing professionally for a couple of digital publications like The Wire, The Planetary Society, etc.
I worked at TeamIndus for almost 2 years and towards end of it is when the writing bug bit me. I realized that I enjoyed writing about space exploration and science a lot more than doing research. With that, also came the realization that there are less science communicators than researchers.
So I left TeamIndus and decided to officially start on my own as a Freelance Writer. In this capacity I have written articles on space for several Indian as well as global publications. Notably, I was also the official live blogger covering the Chandrayaan 2 landing phase for The Wire.
This live coverage was read by tens of thousands. Subsequently, a faculty from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai contacted me after reading my coverage and reading my articles. They invited me to work at TIFR as a science communicator which involved curating and writing content for their website and blog, handling their social media, etc. In particular, interacting with eminent visiting scientists to understand their work and communicating it in context has been a challenging and interesting role.
After my brief stint at TIFR, I continue to do freelancing and communicating space exploration and science to the masses.
What were some of the the challenges you faced in your career? How did you address them?
Being from a family, relatives included, who never delved into the pure sciences, things were rarely clear. My primary challenge at each phase of my academia and career has always been to figure out what to do next to pursue my goals. Over the years, I’ve addressed this in various ways like researching a lot on the internet, talking to professors, emailing scientists, etc. Here I must note that both my Mom and Dad have been incredibly supportive throughout. They never hesitated to trust me to find a way and continue to do so.
How does your work benefit the society?
If humanity doesn’t have future in space, then there is no future. Our Earth, as beautiful as it maybe, isn’t here forever. We must invest in and prioritize space exploration and settlement as our goal. By doing science communication, I play my small part pushing humanity towards that goal.
What skills are needed for your job? How did you acquire the skills?
- Observing what people are talking about, locally as well as online. Knowing your audience is quintessential.
- Have a deep understanding and passion for the subject of your interest.
- Communicate it in a simple language that resonates with the masses.
- An ability to use digital tools effectively. You should know how to quickly find information that is reliable, how to network, even how to setup a blog, effectively use social media, etc.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Explore and identify what you truly like and just do it. I got all my jobs because I kept blogging, and I kept blogging simply because I liked it. Eight years ago when I started my first blog on the internet, I had no idea that I’d become a professional science communicator writing about what I love the most – space!
Become a master in communicating all things space. 🙂