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Lily Interviews Jocelyn Bell Burnell


The screen call pinged promptly at 9am and there, in the display, appeared a respected Dame of the realm in digital form. Smiling and attentive, her manner immediately made the others on the call feel at ease.  

On Monday, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell joined a Zoom call for Lily in College I to interview her for an article which she plans to submit to The Friend magazine.  

Attending a centuries’ old school means there are many who have come before; so many lives, so many stories, so many different paths taken after having finished school. Jocelyn is one of many significant women to have walked The Mount’s corridors in her developing years and is now often found in the spotlight. When Lily, who is interested in journalism, prepared for the interview, she was inundated by a wealth of online information detailing Jocelyn’s fascinating life.  

Before academic studies led her to discover pulsars in 1967 while she was still a postgraduate student, Jocelyn came to school at The Mount from 1956 – 61. She fondly remembered the liberalness of England compared to rural Northern Ireland, where her family lived and were Quakers. Awarded a BSc in 1965 from the University of Glasgow, Jocelyn went on to earn her PhD at Cambridge in 1969.  

Lily had shared in advance her prepared questions and, after an amiable chat, the interview began. Jocelyn gave candid and reflective answers. When the conversation strayed from Lily’s prepared questions, Jocelyn’s responses were thoughtful and full of good will. A life-long Quaker, Jocelyn had a cheerfulness which evoked the words of George Fox, “Walk cheerfully around the world, answering to that of God in everyone.”  

In the days before Lily’s interview, it was announced that Jocelyn was to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal, which was first awarded in 1824 and whose previous recipients include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawking. When Lily mentioned this during the call, Jocelyn pointed out with good humour, “They’ve been awarding that medal for two hundred years. I am the fifth woman, in all that time, to get the Gold medal, and most of us have been in this century.”  

Minutes before the call had started, Lily confessed to being excited but slightly nervous. During their conversation it was clear that both women were enjoying themselves and Jocelyn asked Lily about school and life in lockdown. After the interview finished, Lily was amazed at how well everything had gone, saying of Jocelyn, “She was so lovely and down to earth.”  

We all look forward to Lily’s article later in the term.