Tennessee is a great place to pursue a STEM career. But don’t just take our word for it. To inspire the state’s next generation of technological leaders to pursue STEM careers, the TSIN is collecting profiles of people already working in STEM in Tennessee.
- Location: Nashville
- Job title, Company: Outreach Astronomer, Vanderbilt University Dyer Observatory
In 25 words or fewer, what do you do? I am in charge of presenting to groups who come to the observatory to learn about astronomy and space science.
- The best thing about your job: I get to work with people of all ages and educate them about many different topics of astronomy, which allows me to teach them things I find really interesting. I also get to use telescopes to show folks the wonder and beauty of the universe.
- Tools you work with to do your job: I get to work with telescopes on a weekly basis. I also use computers quite a bit when I present to groups and also when doing research.
- Path you took to get this job: After high school, I completed 4.5 years of undergraduate work in the Physics & Astronomy program at Austin Peay State University to get a B.S. in physics. While there, I gained experience in teaching classes. I then completed my doctorate in the graduate Physics & Astronomy program at Vanderbilt University (concentration in astronomy). While there for seven years, I continued teaching as well as worked part-time at Dyer Observatory. I still teach classes today.
- Favorite subjects in school: My favorite subjects in school were all of my science classes, especially physics and astronomy, as well as any of the math classes. I think these classes were so interesting to me because they taught us how the world around us worked. It’s a neat feeling when you can explain, for example, how planets move (a topic that perplexed humans for thousands of years) just by showing folks a simple mathematical equation.
- Subjects and skills from school that you use in your job now: My job constantly makes use of the physics, astronomy, and math that I learned during grade school as well as the more complicated versions that I learned throughout my college courses.
- Advice for students who want to do what you do: Being an astronomer requires a good working knowledge of physics and the skills to use various types of math to understand how the universe works. Many times I’ve heard students say they will never use the math they learn to do things in everyday life. They are always surprised when they ask me how humans know certain things about space, and I show them by using “the math they would never use.” Never be afraid of being made fun of for being a “nerd.” In my own experience, the folks that like to make fun of you actually envy you because you know and understand things they don’t. If you have a strong interest in something, be sure to follow it. Many folks will try to work in a career that they hate because it pays well. If you follow something you love, even though it may not make you wealthy, you will enjoy life much more. As many of my colleagues have said, if you find a career in what you love, you will never work a day in your life.