Spotlight September continues on Soph talks science today with another incredible scientist role model from the world of astrophysics!
This girl is a star – literally! One quote by Carl Sagan inspired her and got her interested in stars and galaxies, but also teaches us all that we are ALL stars!
‘The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interior of collapsing stars. We are all made of star stuff.”
Now – she is the star inspiring others to look to the skies and consider a career studying space! This self-confessed chocolate connoisseur studies galaxy formation and evolution by doing a lot of programming, but is also living my Big Bang Theory fan girl dreams by working at CalTech in Pasadena, California!
This gal is a great role model for younger girls as she proves you can be a scientist and still be a popular social media celeb with nearly 12,000 Instagram followers! You don’t have to choose! You can be both if you want to be. So, I am excited to introduce to you my next Scientist in the Spotlight, Amber R.
What made you choose astrophysics?
Amber: I wanted to do astronomy for as long as I can remember. I have drawings I made in 6th grade of me working for NASA. Just the idea that the elements that created us were forged in the cores of dying stars blew my mind. It still does!
Like many fields in science, it is a male dominated field, but there are many wonderful female astronomers out there and I am having a great experience.
Were you always going to study science, or were there other options?
Amber: Both of my parents are in the medical field, which I considered, but only as a backup plan. To me there was nothing more satisfying that studying space. I wouldn’t say that there was one particular moment, but more of a pattern I noticed from my science teachers. When I asked them random or odd questions, they reacted with delight and excitement so I wanted to be in a field where questioning everything was encouraged and rather necessary.
I chose science because there was nothing else like it. To me, I was always amazed when people told me they didn’t like science! Like how could that be possible? How can you not be mesmerized that a set of laws governs how the world behaves? How we evolved over millions of years to become an intelligent life form? I took an immediate interest in science and my parents fully supported it. They would take me to science centres, buy me books and science equipment, and I’m not sure what was the larger inspiration – having all the science resources I wanted, or the fact that my parent supported me 100%.
What made you start your ‘Astronomer Amber’ Instagram?
Amber: I started my science IG to show my little sisters and their friends that being a female scientist doesn’t make you less popular. It makes you badass! It draws people towards you with ideas and questions and makes your voice powerful and ideas valuable. I want girls to know that you don’t need to choose between being popular and liking science. That intelligence, fashion and happiness can coexist. Girls get channeled away from STEM due to social expectations, gender stereotypes and the lack of female role models. I can’t do much about the first two, but I realised I could help by being a female role model.
Why is scicomm important to you?
Amber: We live at a time when information is available at our fingertips instantly, and while this is convenient and useful, it can also be dangerous. If scientists cannot communicate to a general audience we cannot expect people to care about the issues we care about. We need the importance of our work to be understood by voters, policy makers and funders. If we don’t give scicomm our all, it could lead people to fear and mistrust scientists, as we are currently seeing in climate change discussions. There has been a major push towards anti-science tendencies, and we have to push back.
Outside of science, what other interests do you have?
Amber: I enjoy staying fit. I love playing tennis, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, boxing. And I also love shopping, reading, and of course taking pictures for Instagram.
Balancing grad school with a social life is a key skill. Do you have any other tips for surviving grad school?
Amber: I would also tell people that research isn’t for everyone and that’s okay! But don’t give up on doing research because you’re afraid of programming or failing. It takes time and patience, but once you get the hang of it, it can really be quite extraordinary.
I’ve learnt that loving science is a gift. Many enjoy science, but the lucky ones can’t live without it. And if you’re one of the lucky ones, you can never let someone talk you out of pursuing a career in science.
Has your science journey been what you expected?
Amber: I don’t think anyone’s career journey is what they would expect. I knew there would be challenges and doubts, but also successes along the way and there have been. As long as you have the mindset that you will rise to meet every challenge, you will. But hopefully in 10 years time I will still be studying space and hopefully working for NASA.
And finally, where should be my next travel destination?
Amber: A place where you can see the Milky Way! I’ve seen it in Chile at the Las Campanas Observatories and a few other places. It’s incredible and definitely something everyone needs to see before they die.
Massive thanks to Amber for taking time to be interviewed by me for the blog! If like me, Amber’s research has got your love and fascination for space reignited, then there is one thing you MUST do today and that is follow her on Instagram at @astronomer_amber. You will never be disappointed by what she shares and always learn something. Plus she has tutorials for learning how to code if you fancy picking up that skill!
So S P O T L I G H T S E P T E M B E R has truly begun! Make sure to check back in every Monday and Friday this month for a new scientist’s story. PLUS I will be sprinkling these blog posts with a few #waybackwednesday and #throwbackthursday posts on my social media pages (see links below) to show you what my previous Scientist in the Spotlight scientists are getting up to now! AND at the end of the month I have another announcement to make! So there is LOTS going on across Soph talks science in September. Make sure you don’t miss out and subscribe to my mailing list at the top right of this page or follow me over on social media! Thank you all for your continued support. I am absolutely loving my science communication side hustle at the moment – especially as this week and last month have been the most successful EVER on my blog and I have so many new exciting collaborations and projects coming up! Not sure I’ve got time for this PhD malarky 😛