No Time Like The Presentation 2021!

Last week I submitted a 90-second video abstract of my research to the No Time Like The Presentation competition from Skype A Scientist. And I was selected to give a 10-minute talk on my research!!

The full-length presentations (from me and the other scientists selected) will be in April and streamed live to their Youtube page (and saved for later viewing).

Upcoming virtual public talks

Hi friends! I have a few public talks coming up in the next two months that I want to tell you about. They’re also listed on my science communication and outreach page (and I’ll keep that list updated). Join me from anywhere in the world!

How Do Scientists “See” Black Holes?, Tuesday April 6th on AstroZoom

A ~20-minute talk on the ways we can ‘see’ black holes even though light can’t escape from within the event horizon. It’ll be pre-recorded and sub-titled in Farsi by the host, with live Q&A after. The talk will be aimed at middle school and high school students (roughly grades 5-12).

Exo-lent Planets!, Saturday April 17th at MSU SciFest

A ~20-minute talk + Q&A about planets in other solar systems around other suns, featuring some well-known exoplanets in pop culture. This talk will be aimed at all ages.

The brightest little pulsar, Thursday April 22nd at the REO Town Reading Series

A story about the brightest little pulsar in our galaxy (it’s name is Swift J0243). One of four readings that evening. Aimed at adults, especially artsy ones.

How Do Scientists “See” Black Holes?, Thursday May 27th, Great Lakes Lectures

A 40-minute talk + Q&A on the ways we can ‘see’ black holes, going into more depth and detail than the April 6th AstroZoom talk. Aimed at high school students through adults.

If you’d like to book me to speak at your event, please contact me!

Webcam cover

I knitted a tiny hat for my external webcam, for stylish privacy when it’s not in use, and I wrote it up in my first ever knitting pattern. If you make it and find an error, please tell me and I’ll fix it 😬 If you don’t see the PDF embedded below, download it here.

Physics choir, Winter 2020 & Spring 2021

The MSU Physics choir, the Grand Canonical Ensemble (it’s a physics pun), had our virtual performance at the end of 2020. Since we rehearsed on zoom with sound off the whole semester, this was also our first time ever hearing each other and how we sounded together!

Update: Here are the two songs from Spring 2021:

Black Lives Matter and anti-racism resources

Aside from showing up at protests (wear a mask the whole time! to not spread COVID and to protect your identity!), talking with neighbors (I think I convinced an older white guy that being at a protest doesn’t mean you deserve tear gas), and donating money (scroll down for places), I’ve been reading and reflecting and flagging for follow-up. White supremacy is ingrained in nearly every aspect of my life. Recognizing it, unlearning it. and actively working against it is possible (and necessary!) and I’m in it for the long haul. If you’re tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are of experiencing and living it! Here are a list of articles, tweets, and organizations relevant to Black Lives Matter, protests, and anti-racism. Please read and share, and contact me if you have suggestions/corrections.

Articles I’ve read/on my to-read list

This is a mix of articles on current events and analysis of historical events that provide context for the current Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve put things in alphabetical order by author’s last name. You’re welcome to provide further suggestions!

Twitter threads that are extra super good

I’ve re-tweeted and signal-boosted lots on my twitter, but these threads get extra mention. Again, alphabetical by last name, where possible.

Organizations to donate to

Lansing-area twitter accounts to follow for protest and safety info

  • BLMLansing (FYI, they did not organize the May 31st protest; after a few hours of the nonviolent protest that formed, they strongly encouraged everyone to go home)
  • LansingDSA
  • BLMPolice and InghamScanner (tweets of what’s said on the police scanner)

Some more articles, while you’re here

If we’re mutuals on Instagram, you can also check out some info and resources I’ve saved to my IG Stories.

Take care 💖

Local Lansing farms for produce and meat

In an effort to both support local farms and avoid the grocery store as much as possible (no more than once every 2 or 3 weeks), I’ve been ordering things directly from farms! They’re listed in order of approximate distance from the city of Lansing. Some of them have come from a list of farmers market vendors in the area. Please let me know if I’ve mislabeled anything or missed one you love!

Fresh produce

Eggs, Meat, and Dairy

Other food

  • Rust Belt Roastery, Lansing: coffee
  • Ozone’s Brewhouse, Lansing: beer, new growlers and to-go cans (not refilling old growlers)
  • Stone Cloud Gardens (Marjorie & Bob Johns): jams and jellies, vinegars, handmade soap. Order at stonecloudgardens@yahoo.com
  • DavePops, St. John’s MI: dairy-free popsicles; minimum order of 1 dozen, can mix and match flavors, Lansing delivery each week
  • Sandy Ridge Farm, Owosso: baked goods, syrup. Farm pickup hours are Friday 3-7pm at 3611 Tyrrell Rd Owosso; check facebook for options and order instructions 
  • Grampa’s Pasties, Richland MI: pasties! Taking orders and doing drops every couple of weeks

So you want to be an astronomer

Astronomy research makes for an interesting and challenging career. In my experience, it’s one of the more collaborative physical sciences, and it’s one of the most fascinating things I could possibly be doing with my time. I’m regularly asked for my advice by high school and college/university students on what they should do to become a professional astronomer, so I’m sharing it all here. Other professional astronomers like Prof. Katie Mack also have advice on their websites!

High school

Take physics, math, and computer programming (if offered). It will be most helpful to you if you can take pre-calculus and calculus 1 in high school, and AP/IB/honors physics (if available). Statistics is also very useful, but unfortunately you may have to choose stats OR calc, and I would probably recommend calculus for now (but listen to your teacher’s advice, since they know you and your program best). Much of astronomy is actually done with writing scientific research software for data analysis or simulations, so having a programming background is SUPER useful!

You can also look into summer research opportunities at your local college or university. As a researcher, it is often difficult to hire a high school student on their own for research, so it’s best to go through established programs. Check online for summer research opportunities both in your area and (non-local) residential programs.

When looking at colleges/universities, keep in mind that not all programs are equally rigorous. Many times, astronomy is part of a physics (or sometimes physics & astronomy) department, so you will take lots of physics classes. Do undergrads take two semesters of upper-level Electricity & Magnetism? Two semesters of upper-level Quantum Mechanics? Can undergrads take graduate-level classes if they complete the pre-requisites? Both small liberal arts colleges and massive public research universities can have rigorous physics and astronomy programs, so ask questions! Also ask what research opportunities there are for undergrads on campus (in addition to summer research), and how many students go on to grad school (if you think that’s something you might want to do).

Keep up with your athletic and artistic pursuits. Hobbies are good for the soul.

College/university

Again, take physics, math, computer programming, and astronomy (if offered), and meet with your advisor to be sure you’re fulfilling the course requirements for your degree. Make study groups with your classmates, and ask questions at office hours with your prof and/or teaching assistant. College is when the training wheels start to come off and you transition to being a self-driven learner, so your coursework will transition from being formulaic plug-and-play to being multi-stage problems that help you synthesize different aspects of the course material.

Talk with your academic advisor about research opportunities, both during the semester and the summer. Different universities have policies about doing this for course credit vs. being an hourly employee, so ask questions, accept advice from your mentor(s), and do whatever is best for your personal situation. Building on a former student’s research project is great experience, and is true to how most research actually goes!

Applying to grad school

If you decide that you really like research and want to pursue graduate school, talk with your academic advisor (and research advisor, if they’re different people). Again, listen to their advice. Chat with grad students, postdocs, and profs who work in areas you’re interested in, and ask them what classes are most helpful for studying that field. Remember that grad school in the US and Canada (and post-MSc PhD programs elsewhere) is *paid* and tuition is either covered by grants or very inexpensive. You should not be taking out a loan to go to grad school in the sciences. Iterate with your advisor (and even a writing tutor) on grad school application materials, and give your letter writers ample time (like 4 weeks notice) for the letters of recommendation. You can also ask a letter writer to include specific pieces of information to explain any discrepancy in your transcript, like if you had health problems and that’s why your grades dropped one semester.

Policies vary based on country and school, but often times you’ll be invited to visit either as an interview stage or after you’ve been accepted to grad school. Take this opportunity to chat with professors you want to work with, grad students (to see how happy they are and how much they’d recommend the program), and get a feel for the location and whether or not you could realistically live there for 6ish years. If you’re part of an underrepresented demographic and you don’t see anyone else from that demographic at that school, ask questions of mentors and current grad students (there and elsewhere) to figure out whether there’s a notable systemic problem there, or there just don’t happen to be any students of that demographic there at that time.

You should know that there’s a mental health crisis among graduate students, and graduate school is HARD (both emotionally and mentally). Part of the difficulty is because you’ve chosen a particular path and that path is challenging (research is part exploration and part banging your head against a wall). You’re also in a life stage with a lot of existential angst and growing pains as you figure out what kind of adult you are and what kind of life you want. Advisor fit is one of the better predictors of mental wellbeing among graduate students, so pick someone who you mesh well with and who you think will support and inspire you. Your advisor makes or breaks your grad school experience — a great advisor will help you find a niche that plays to your strengths in whatever sub-field you find interesting (like high-energy astronomy, or exoplanets, or quantum information, or optics); a negligent advisor will amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can cause you to dislike a research topic that you might otherwise think you love. It can be tricky to judge the quality of a working relationship based on short interactions, but chatting with grad students (both in their group and not) can help fill in the picture.

Some final thoughts

Above all, know that it is very normal to change your dreams, and change your major, and change your job. There are new and varied challenges to being an astronomer as you move along the path from undergrad to grad to postdoc (and presumably to professor). There is more than one way to be an astronomer, and the community as a whole needs people with varied talents and areas of expertise — not just research, but also outreach, teaching, policy, and advocacy. Building your own support network of peers and mentors (more senior grad students, postdocs, and profs) can help you find your own path to success!

(Header image: AstroSat/J. Paice)

Doing my MSc in Canada

I wrote a guest post in AstroBetter about doing my MSc in Canada at the University of Alberta. Going abroad for a MSc is quite an uncommon path for US-born students in STEM, but I’m really glad I did it. Read the whole post here.

I knitted a hat!


When I was a kid, my grandma taught me to knit, and I made a few simple little things. In middle school and high school, I’d knit skinny “fashion scarves” with fluffy sparkly yarn, and I did some granny-square blankets, teddy bears, and mittens with the church youth knitting group (I was suuuuper cool /sarcasm). I hadn’t really touched it at all since starting college, but I noticed it becoming popular again among my generation in the past five or so years. So, I finally properly picked it up again earlier this month and knitted a hat!

Checking the circumference and length of the body of the hat. Yes, I’m using a paper clip for my row marker.

At the suggestion of the ladies at Sticks & Strings in Lansing, I joined Ravelry and found a cute, easy pattern for a winter hat (/toque, for Canadians). I used the Bankhead pattern by Susie Gourlay, adult size large. It fits pretty perfectly! Have a look at my project page on Ravelry for the technical details. I’ve noticed that it’s easier now to do “longer” patterns while binge-watching tv shows! I also have a longer attention span as a 28 year old than I did as a 12 year old. I made this hat in probably 5 days (two weekends and a workday evening) working at a leisurely pace. I’d say it was relaxing to work on this, but mostly, it was nice for my anxiety to be channelled in a focused, creative outlet where the input-output relation (so much work for so much result) is basically linear 😊 I’m looking forward to the Fiber Arts Fest in Ann Arbor in October!

CUWiP panel on mental health


If you’re an undergraduate physics/astronomy major in the US or Canada and a gender minority (woman, non-binary, etc.), sign up to attend the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)! It’s a 3-day regional conference Jan 18-20, 2019 held at 12 locations across the US and Canada, so there’ll be one not too far from you. You can look up the CUWiP hosting universities here.

At Michigan State University (for students in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania) I’ll be involved in a panel/workshop on mental health! Take a look at a seminar I gave in May 2018 at MSU on mental wellbeing for early career researchers (note that many of the university resources are MSU-specific). Mental health issues are alarmingly common for early career researchers (students and postdocs), so raising awareness and connecting people to resources are very important.