PhD candidate & NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Princeton University Dept. of Astrophysical Sciences
Build a network of both peers and mentors who uplift you and know what you are capable of.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I study fluid dynamics and nucleosynthesis in high energy astrophysical environments using computational tools. In particular, I run simulations to understand the interaction between turbulence and nuclear reactions when a white dwarf merges with an even denser stellar remnant (a neutron star or low mass black hole).
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
Physics was really hard for me in high school, and I loved that challenge. I had a high school physics teacher who was a woman with a Physics PhD. She encouraged me to go to college, exposed me to the possibility of doing a science PhD, and never made me feel like my gender would be a barrier in doing so. As a first-gen student who knew no female scientists, I was hugely inspired by her. I'd also always loved space, like many people, but didn't think it was a possible career path until I took my first astrophysics course in college and was told I could do research in the field and someday be a professor of astrophysics. I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley, where everyone around me was a computer engineer, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to do something computational. Still, it was important to me to pursue fundamental knowledge and go down a research-oriented, rather than technological/industry, path.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
I am a visiting student at the Institute for Advanced Study, a place many great physicists have passed through, and where Einstein spent much of his career. The early college version of myself, who constantly made comparisons with all the boys in class who showed so much confidence in their physics abilities, would be absolutely shocked.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I love the freedom I have to study things that we truly don't understand. I love how there are no right answers, and the goal is really exploration all the way through. I love it for the reason I got into it in the first place-- how challenging it is. I love struggling to work toward a goal that involves solving a problem nobody else has ever solved before. I love being able to make a dent in our knowledge of the cosmos while sitting at home on my laptop.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
There are already so many girls who are inspired to pursue STEM-- the problem is that those first steps toward doing so are too often discouraging because of the environment we learn STEM in. I almost quit the Physics major because of how isolated and filled with self-doubt I felt early on. What worked for me is also what I'd encourage the next generation of girls in STEM to do: build a network of both peers and mentors who uplift you and know what you are capable of. Know that any impostor syndrome you feel is likely a result of a toxic, unwelcoming environment that makes you feel less than, and not a personal failing. The confidence you see in other people should not fool you into thinking they are superior to you, because it is a direct result of others (often men) receiving more support.
INSPO / FUN FACT
"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." -Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer (1868)