Assistant Professor, University of Colorado Boulder & National Solar Observatory
If you are unsure about the field of research to chose, apply to a summer internship.
Maria D. Kazachenko
What do you do?
I study the Sun! Solar activity, in the form of flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) encompasses powerful and beautiful yet enigmatic phenomena. The goal of my research is to understand why and how solar flares and CMEs happen. Why does it matter? To us, solar-system residents, Sun is the main star, which affects everything, including our life on Earth and objects in Space. Sun also tells us about the details of how other stars work. To understand solar eruptions, I use lots of math, physics and computers.
Why did you choose this field?
I chose it by chance and also because I liked the people working in solar physics. They are the best! First time I became interested in Astronomy was after observing a total solar eclipse in Hungary 1999. Solar eclipses are magic. If you have not seen one, don't miss the next one here in April 2024 in Texas (you would have to wait till 2045 for the next in the US). Once I became an astronomer as a student at Saint-Petersburg State University, Russia, one of my professors recommended me to apply to a summer school in solar physics at National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, New Mexico. I loved it so much that decided to apply to a graduate school in solar physics at Montana State University, Bozeman. If we are talking about specific people, then it was all thanks to our family friend, an astronomer in Saint-Petersburg State University, Professor Alexander Tsvetkov, who inspired me first to change a high school from an English one to more math-oriented and then to apply to astronomy department in my hometown, St. Petersburg. Once I was there I just kept moving to places with nice people doing exciting science. That is what brought me first to Bozeman, MT, then to Berkeley, CA and finally to Boulder, CO where we are now preparing to the operation of the largest solar telescope in the world, DKIST, on Maui, HI some time in mid-2020.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
It is important not to feel shy and just do what you want - approach people, opportunities, create things. When you are young you are frequently afraid to be wrong. But being wrong is part of the story. Moreover, you are expected to do mistakes when you are young.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love that that there is a lots of variety in types of problems to solve, I like people working in my field, I love interacting with students.
Best advice for next generation?
If you like solving problems, just do it. STEM is very exciting and now is the best time to pursue it. Also if you are unsure about the field of research to chose, apply to a summer internship. In solar physics we have plenty!
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
Before grad school I spent 10 years training in opera singing.