What do you do?
I study the outer atmosphere of the Sun, called the solar corona. My research focuses on trying to understand the relationship between sudden eruptions in the corona and the response of the solar surface, called the photosphere. We are interested in how these eruptions are formed and heated. I specifically study coronal jets, which are small, but frequent eruptions.
Why did you choose this field?
I first became interested in astrophysics around 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in a very rural area of Alabama, so the night sky was very bright. Most nights we could easily see the 'Arm' of the Milkway. I was first interested in understanding our place in the universe. Then I begin reading alot of science fiction books and became interested in time-travel and technology of the future. When I was older I spent time reading my older siblings' high school textbooks, encyclopedias, library books, etc. Still, I didn't think astronomy was a serious career choice. I thought it was something people did as a hobby. I didn't know or had even heard of anyway studying astronomy for a living or even thinking seriously about the physics of the universe. I always wondered why doesn't anyone want to know how the stars are made and how gravity works in space. It wasn't until high school that I read that astrophysics is a field of science that had been studied for hundreds of years. I remember reading about astrophysics in the very back of an old textbook while I was in Saturday school detention (for being late to school too many days). I asked my detention teacher if could keep the old textbook and he allowed me to take it home. It was my senior year in high school, during a physics class that I realized astrophysics was something that *I* could do. The first semester of physics was pretty boring and I didn't do very well. But the 2nd semester discussed gravity, theories of the formation of the moon, and different types of stars. It was the first time I willingly participated in class. My physics teacher wrote 'shows interest' on my progress report and that was the first time I realized that my teachers knew I existed. I was pretty quiet and shy. I also had older and younger siblings so I didn't think any of my teachers could distinguish me from either of them. So I remember feeling elated that someone else actually noticed my interests. So, then I decided to study physics in college. I was also considering becoming a writer, so I double-majored in Physics and English at Tuskegee University. My first year we had access to a computer lab and I spent way too much time reading about blackholes. At that time (1998) blackholes were still really controversial. I determined I wanted to study particle astrophysics at Princeton with Kip Thorne, I was very ambitious. Fast-forwarding 6 years, I transferred to Alabama A&M, dropped English and double majored in math and physics with a minor in Space Science. By the time I reached my senior year of undergraduate, I was ready to leave physics altogether and just getting a job in industry. But during my sophomore year, I had completed an REU at Lawerence Berkeley Lab with Hakeem Oluseyi. At the same time, I was planning on giving up on research, he became a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. So, I applied to graduate school at A&M so that I could work with him as my research advisor. BUT, he wanted me to work on polar plumes in the solar corona. I didn't know much about that, but it was very interesting and so I started graduate school in solar physics research. He eventually transferred to another university, and a new professor at A&M, Amy Winebarger, became my primary advisor. I have been in solar physics ever since. There have been so many people that have gotten me here, but Hakeem and Amy are primarily responsible.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
Validation. I have always wanted to be able to contribute something to humanity's quest to understand the universe. That is all. I would like to know all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, but in lieu of that, my primary goal has always been to contribute to finding the answers. After submitting my first 2 papers, I felt that validation. I wish I could tell my younger me to publish earlier in life so that you feel a part of the community much faster.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM because it is a stimulating experience. The universe is so complex and amazing and beautiful. Research is like taking bit by bit to try to understand an immensely complicated puzzle. That process is really satisfying and stimulating. Besides, what else are we made for? I feel like there is only one option. Explore what is this that we call the universe or cease to exist.
Best advice for next generation?
I would say, take it as far as you can take it. Life is complex and comparatively short. Why not go as far as you can go doing something you love? There will be roadblocks and things won't always work out, but keep going until you reach the end. At that point, the universe always provides a way for you to continue. So the possibilities are endless. Just keep going. Also, there is no one type of scientist so stop comparing yourself to everyone else. I firmly believe the reason we don't have flying cars or haven't invented deep space travel is because we are not diverse in our pool of scientists and too conservative in our ideas. You cant be Steven Hawking was because you are not him. You have just as much to offer, so be you.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
It is an act of revolution, to simply exist. -me