Astronomy PhD Candidate, Yale University

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Don’t let people tell you that you’re being too ambitious or stop you from following your dreams. Dare to be extraordinary.

Malena Rice

What do you do?

I broadly study planets and minor planets – both within the solar system and beyond – with the goal of better understanding the origins and diversity of planetary systems that have been discovered over the past few decades. Recent discoveries of extrasolar planets, which orbit around stars other than the Sun, have indicated that planets come in a huge range of sizes, compositions, and configurations, with a huge range of properties extending beyond those observed in the solar system. My work aims to understand the implications of these new observations and to place the solar system in a broader context.

Why did you choose this field?

I really just stumbled upon astronomy as a field – I was a pre-med student when I began undergrad, and my entire life I had been planning to become a doctor. But, when I reached college, I realized that I just didn’t enjoy biology enough to go through with my original plans. I had a late-night conversation with a friend who convinced me to try out astronomy, so I decided to try it out and haven’t turned back since! That definitely meant I had a lot of catching up to do, though; a lot of people studying astronomy have been fascinated by the stars since they were young, and I had just never even considered astronomy research as a viable career path. But I’ve made it this far, and I’m still going strong!

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I think that for me, getting into Yale and beginning my PhD in the first place has been such an incredible dream come true. I really had no idea when I was younger that it was even possible to get paid for thinking about space all day, surrounded by brilliant people who inspire me every day. Especially in a place where all the buildings look like castles!

Why do you love working in STEM?

I think it’s so amazing that I get to make a career out of thinking of interesting solutions to really, really interesting problems about outer space. I get to choose my own schedule and what ideas to work on, and I love that I work on a topic that so many people get excited about so that I can share my own excitement! And, of course, it’s amazing working at the frontier of any field and knowing that you are pushing forward the world’s knowledge about your topic every single day.

Best advice for next generation?

Don’t let people tell you that you’re being too ambitious or stop you from following your dreams just because they aren’t the “normal” path. Dare to be extraordinary.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

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