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#STEMStories: Kaitlin, Observational Astrophysicist, USA

#STEMStories: Kaitlin, Observational Astrophysicist, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? 
Hello! My name’s Kaitlin and I’m an observational astrophysicist. That means I am the kind of astrophysicist who gets to use the big telescopes around the world. I used to study ancient stars--there is a lot they can tell us about what the Universe was like when it was so new that even galaxies hadn’t formed yet. Now instead of studying the stars I am looking for planets around them. 
2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? 
Astronomy was one of the many topics I was obsessed with as a kid, but I kind of forgot about it after I joined band and decided I wanted to be a music teacher. Then in high school I learned it is actually really hard to be a teacher! I had to find a new career path and even though I was a C student in math and science I thought about what had made me excited as a kid and landed on astrophysics. It was really hard to make up all the math and physics classes I hadn’t taken and even harder to get over thinking I was “naturally bad at math”. But eventually I graduated with my astrophysics Bachelor’s degree and was accepted into graduate school for my PhD. Now I am in my fifth year and close to graduation. Afterwards, I will continue to do research at another university. 
3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? 
My exoplanet research is really demanding (a lot of people are involved!) but it is also really awesome to take steps towards discovering new planets that no one has ever known about before. I really want to know more about the planets I’ve found--are they big? Small? Rocky? Could they host life? Every day I get a little closer to finding out. 
 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 have a long list of things that keep me sane! Talking to friends, playing video games, embroidery, creative writing, watching certain TV shows (I love Adventure Time!) Whenever I get sick of my research I just watch Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and remember how awesome the Universe is. 
5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? 
I wouldn’t say that I have any one role model. I guess the people that I look up to in STEM are people who are kind. Many are good scientists, but kind people are rare. 
6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? 
Probably to feel less guilty about doing fun things. Life doesn’t stop just because you have homework. 
7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?
  • Those boys that sit at the front of the class and try to answer every question? Not as smart as they seem/think they are. Working with other people to solve problems doesn’t make you less capable, it actually makes you a better scientist. Real science happens in teams.
  • Your mental health comes first. Take breaks and don’t feel bad about it. Binge that Netflix show.
  • Get eight hours of sleep and don’t let other people bragging about how little sleep they got get you feeling inadequate.

8. How do you measure your success? 

If I am getting eight hours of sleep and learning something new every day then I am succeeding. 

9. Where can we find out more about your work? 
Here is a cool article about what I do:… You can also email me at! 
10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you? 
Yes! Feel free to DM me on Twitter @toomanyspectra