National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Miki Ishii

I want more people to know the joy of research.

Subaru Telescope Senior Specialist

Miki Ishii

The depth and difficulty of communicating in an understandable way

I work as a public relations specialist dedicated to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Subaru Telescope, independent from NAOJ’s overall public relations activities. My job related to the Subaru Telescope is to release web content such as “Science Results” and “Topics,” through cooperation with Hawaiʻi public relations practitioners. My responsibility in TMT includes a broader range of public relations services: publishing press releases on the TMT website, conducting outreach activities like exhibitions, and operating social media.

When creating a press release, I receive a draft from a researcher and edit it, but I find it challenging and thought provoking to communicate technical information in a way ordinary people can understand. Although once a researcher, I would not have realized how difficult it is if I had continued writing only academic papers. Even though academic papers are difficult for ordinary people, they cover many interesting studies. Communicating these studies in a way understandable to a wider audience is, I think, the true joy of public relations work.

Miki Ishii during the interview

Relocating to Hawaiʻi, getting married and pregnant, hunting for a job, and ending up in TMT public relations

I started working at NAOJ in 2002. After completing my Ph.D. studies, I hoped to work as a researcher and applied for some positions in Japan and overseas. Successfully getting hired by NAOJ, I first served as a member of the teaching assistant staff in optical and infrared astronomy and observation system research, and was engaged in research duties. Two years later I was transferred to the Subaru Telescope in Hawaiʻi, where I served as a Support Astronomer for about 10 years. Every day, I spent half of my working time supporting researchers observing with the Subaru Telescope and the remaining half pursuing my own research.

During that time, I got married to a colleague, but then he finished his term and returned to Japan. After my husband left Hawaiʻi, I started wondering about finding a job in Japan. I was pregnant at that time, and that made me ask myself, “What can I do for my child and generations to come?” That was when I found a TMT listing for a public relations position. I decided to apply for the job, thinking that this position would allow me to use the experience I had gained over the years, and that it would be wonderful if I could do something for a telescope expected to drive the future of astronomy.

The splendor of the natural environment in Mitaka always impresses me, even though I have been working here for many years.

After moving from Hawaiʻi to Mitaka, I had a son, but for the first year after giving birth, I was unable to leave him at daycare. At that time, my husband was working in Okazaki, so I was almost like a single mother and physically drained. It was not until my son turned one year old that I found a daycare center for him, and around that time NAOJ started to offer a childcare room for the children of employees. I have used the childcare room for temporary care several times when work comes up on Saturdays, such as for the Mitaka Open House Day. Even though I am not a frequent user, knowing that there is somewhere to leave my son is reassuring.

My son is now in the second grade of elementary school, and he sometimes comes to NAOJ. He is more interested in bugs than in stars, so whenever he comes here, he hunts for bugs. The natural environment here is superb. Every year, we have beautiful autumn foliage, and whenever I see it, the joy and happiness of being alive well up in me, even though I have been working here for many years.

Miki Ishii posing with autumn foliage at Mitaka Campus

Content for children…I want to create opportunities for children to get hooked on science.

I feel that researchers’ attitude has been changing recently. When I was a student, all researchers had to do was conduct their research; however, a growing number of researchers are now working diligently on public relations and outreach, trying to promote their research to a wider audience. The Mitaka Open House Day, an annual event held every fall, is one example of an event where public relations plays a big role: it’s a heroic undertaking “conquered” through the combined efforts of all the NAOJ employees. As the 2021 event was held online, Subaru Telescope and TMT created a video for children. When I showed it to my son, he said that the first “attention grabber” and the quizzes were interesting. But he also said that he was completely lost on the scientific explanation part in between. Communicating in an understandable way for children is indeed difficult. However, I think that resources for children do not always need to be understandable to them. What matters first is to make them interested, so there is nothing wrong as long as these resources can leave something in children’s memory.

I hope to increase content for younger children that is useful for presenting scientific research in various media, although I’m not certain when it will happen. It would be great if I could provide children with opportunities to get hooked on science. I also think that we should put more effort into finding ways to reach people including adults who are not familiar with NAOJ. To achieve my goals, I’m still wondering what skills I should develop. There seem to be many small hurdles to overcome.

Miki Ishii explaining a card game well received by children coming to the Mitaka Open House Day
Images of various celestial objects are printed on the cards.

Interview Date: November 26, 2021 / Published: March 18. 2022
Interview & Article: Masami Usuda / Translation: Ryo Sato and Ramsey Lundock / Photo: Shogo Nagayama
With a few exceptions, the contents of this article are as of the interview date.