Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island
(Engineering Science & Physics Department)
Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History
(Department of Astrophysics)
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I enjoyed math from at least the sixth grade, took advanced classes throughout high school, and when I started college I was planning on majoring in math. In the fall semester of my freshman year I also signed up for an introductory astronomy class, and I was hooked. I signed up for physics the following semester so I could major in physics & astronomy and take the rest of the astronomy courses. But I didn’t do much research as an undergraduate and wasn’t certain I would pursue a career in STEM until I started working at a planetarium after graduating from college. I learned so much more about astronomy and public outreach while I was there that I decided I wanted to pursue research and a Ph.D. in astronomy.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am thrilled with how my fledgling research career has expanded since my Ph.D. to include low mass stars and extra-solar planets. I started out studying brown dwarfs, which are objects with masses in between the masses of stars and planets. My collaborators and I are trying to understand all of these objects in concert because they are surprisingly similar despite the striking differences between, for example, the Sun and Jupiter in our own Solar System.
Even though he didn’t teach science, I still look up to my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Eugene Tiesler, because he taught in a way that made me feel capable and comfortable – I hope I can do the same for my own students. I also admire fellow scientists who have achieved success in their careers while mentoring students and having a family and interesting hobbies – luckily there are too many to name!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the variety and flexibility – I have a lot of different day-to-day responsibilities and there are always opportunities for new projects, in teaching, writing, presenting, research, travel, and more. I meet a lot of people who are interested in what I do, and it is always satisfying to help them learn more or change the way they think about science or scientists, even slightly. I think if everyone understood science just a little bit more, the world would be a better place for it.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Two pieces of advice:
1. Find what you enjoy, even if it’s not what others expect of you. When you enjoy what you’re doing, it won’t be a chore to devote yourself to it and excel.
2. Just because you have achieved a degree of success doesn’t been it is available to everyone. Take an honest look at your path and your community and figure out what you can do or change to make science open to and supportive for others who might be interested. We will all benefit from developing an equitable and diverse STEM community!
Favorite website or app: Astronomy Picture Of the Day: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/