Blog > Astrophysicist

#STEMStories: Heloise, Astrophysicist, New Zealand

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

Hi! My name is Heloise, and I am an Astrophysicist! I currently work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and I study supernovae, as well as black-hole and neutron star mergers.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I didn’t always want to be an astrophysicist for the simple reason that I didn’t know it was a job when I was kid! Nobody in my family had done a PhD and I wasn’t aware “research” was a career. When it came time for me to choose a subject at Uni, I saw that they offered this physics and astronomy degree. I’d always been fascinated by the mysteries of the Universe and thought it sounded awesome. I nearly didn’t do it; I thought I wasn’t clever enough, but my big cousin told me "Do not limit yourself. Just do it and see where your limits lie - don't decide how far you can go before you've tried."

And I’m still pushing the limits of what I can do to this day.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I love problem solving. The good thing about my job is that so long as I can reach my laptop I can do it in bed if I don’t feel like getting out of it ;)

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

I think my first go to when I’m stressed is basic self-care and focusing on life essentials that can be forgotten when work gets hard: I tidy my living space, I cook myself a nice meal (I love cooking) and try to keep my exercise routines going. In particular going to Roller Derby training is a cure-all for me. It makes me forget about work stuff and I get to spend 2 hours with amazing and funny wheely ladies.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I don’t have one, but there are several people who have specific qualities I admire and I find that observing them and asking for advice is a great way for me to grow as a person.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I had (and still have, at times) a tendency to be quite harsh with myself. As it turns out, most people are that way. If I could go back in time, I’d say “Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend”

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Learn python! It’s such a useful programming language and it’s fun to learn :D You might not imagine where you can apply it. For example, as an astrophysicist I spend 50 per cent of my time programming with Python!
  2. If you struggle with something, don’t ever tell yourself it’s because you’re not good enough to do it. Don’t give up. Science is hard, that’s the point - keep going and you’ll get it.
  3. When you do your homework (especially maths and physics), show all your working - usually the point is to see your process and the answer is only worth partial marks. Also it’s never too early to get used to communicating your work

8. How do you measure your success?

With great difficulty. Academia has a weird way to measure success. I try to make sure that my life has impact in a variety of ways: Beyond science I’ve been part of equity and diversity committees, I also try to be a good friend and a good teammate. It’s not just about how many scientific papers I write but whether I make a positive difference in the life of those around me.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

My website! hfstevance.com

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Find me on Twitter and Instagram - my DMs are open! You can also contact me from the contact form on my website.

Twitter: @Sydonahi
Instagram: @Sydonahi