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My Career Journey


I feel like I've had a unique journey to ending up in Astrophysics. At times I feel regret for having "wasted" time not pursuing my passion, but I am grateful for all the people I've met and experiences I've had up along the way. Here is my career story of how I ended up here!

High School and Early College: All Business

Before I ever made a single career decision, I attended the University School of Milwaukee, on full scholarship. The education and course selection was phenomenal, and I found so many good teachers throuhgout my four years there. The social aspect, on the other hand, was very difficult to grapple with. I was certainly not the most social person before (Being a year younger than everyone in my grade didn't help!), but the drastic environment shift made fitting in and socializing much more difficult. Though I did my fair share of socialization, my general solitude pushed me to pursue success in school with almost all my time.

I went from a 3.3 GPA in freshman year to a 4.2 GPA by the end of my senior year, jumping onto honor tracks and adding AP courses halfway through my time there. In an attempt to skip from Pre-Calculus to AP Calculus BC in one year, I was rejected on the basis of "not being ready for that level". So, I learned the BC curriculum on my own and scored a 5/5 on the AP Exam at the end of the year so I could take Multivariable Calculus in my senior year. Feeling very focused on performing in school and succeeding in my life, I became set on pursuing Actuarial Science and becoming an Actuary after college. I was intrigued by the possibility of earning a great salary in a math-heavy role, so I began seeking opportunities to advance.

Though I was certainly considering other majors in many colleges, I landed on pursuing Actuarial Science at UW-Madison thanks to the phenomenal career placement rates in the business school. I was directly admitted into the Wisconsin School of Business in 2020 and immediately began pursuing my career goal of becoming an Actuary. I did very well in my first couple years. My high school credits pushed me far along in the major--by my Sophomore year I had two internships in business, had passed one Actuarial Exam, and I was set up to finish all my courses in less than 4 years.

Though I certainly experience success, I noticed I would feel unmotivated and de-energized after business courses and throughout the days of my internship. Though I was good at the math, the plain, memorization-based nature of the field did not satisfy my powerful appetite for learning and thinking. Since I had a lot of room in my schedule for additional coursework, I considered adding a completely different major--I wanted to learn about something I would not find in business, like history, or music, or film, or a language, or... Astrophysics!

Late College: Becoming an Astrophysicist

For some quick background: My first physics course, AP Physics 1 in high school, was a nightmare for me in the beginning. I was intrigued by the way physics transforms real phenomena into simple mathematical equations, but early on, I struggled with actually executing this transformation. Luckily, I had an excellent teacher (with whom I still keep up with) who helped me improve drastically. By the end of the course, through rigorous studying and genuine enjoyment of the subject, I felt I had an extremely good grasp on all the material--I felt that physics, to me, just made sense. Though I continued feeling this way while taking AP Physics C in my senior year, I never truly believed I would pursue physics as a career--I was just really good at it. This view changed once I added an Astrophysics major and took my first course at UW-Madison.

Astronomy 200: The Introduction to Astronomy, Spring of 2021. In this course we covered everything from the History of Astronomy and Celestial Coordinates to Particle Physics and Galaxy Evolution. We didn't go into depth in any one topic, but I felt enthralled by every new concept and subject, and immediately felt I needed to pursue more. Over the next year, I mixed in Modern Physics, an Intermediate Lab and Mechanics courses with my Business-dominated schedule; as a result, I felt even more captivated by the conceptual and practical wonderland of physics. Everything from learning about past physical discoveries, to the philosophical discussions about the nature of reality, to writing code for conducting simulations and furthering observational research absolutely fascinated me. I felt energized after each class; I began going to research seminars, pursuing professors outside of class, watching videos on physical concepts beyond the coursework--anything to learn more about physics. Yet, at this point, I was still committed to Actuarial Science. I was more than half way through the major and had earned an Actuarial Internship at Northwestern Mutual--the dream opportunity for me at the time. As much as I loved physics, I was driven to complete my major and achieve my career goal of becoming an Actuary.

The summer of my Northwestern Mutual internship was one of the best summers of my life. Everything, from my location, to the people I spent time with, to the decent financial situation, was excellent. Yet and still, I exited that internship fully confident that I would no longer pursue Actuarial Science and instead focus my attention on physics. The work, though challenging and interesting at times, lacked something which physics provided--it didn't invigorate my spirit, it didn't ignite a curiosity inside of me. I performed perfectly well, but I wasn't all in. I knew I couldn't do Actuarial Science as a career, and I knew there was only answer for me. The very next semester, I decided I would drop Actuarial Science and pursue phyiscs full time--that is, to add physics courses, join a research group, and apply for REUs. I did all of the above in my Junior Year and haven't looked back since. I took Electromagnetism, Thermodynamics, Interstellar Medium and Galaxies courses, I joined Professor Keith Bechtol's research group at UW-Madison (See here for my project work so far!), and I applied for 3 REUs at Northwestern University, Unversity of Chicago, and SETI Institute. With the good fortune of wonderful recommendation letters and honesty about my love for physics, I recieved offers for the former two and accepted the offer from CIERA REU @ Northwestern University (See here for my project work so far!). I was so excited to score an REU opportunity in my first attempt and estatic to be part of such a high level research group--each day I continued pursuing Astrophysics, I felt more and more secure in my decision.

My CIERA REU is the (present) culmination of my switch to Astrophysics. It is a very selective program, and the resources provided are extremely well-crafted. While I already felt happy with my decision by the time I was accepted, I couldn't anticipate how much I would enjoy the REU. I dove into my research project in the first week, experimenting with the code, reproducing old results & trying different techniques out of my own curiosity, progressing quickly in learning python and UNIX code, and at times staying up until morning hours by choice to work on code. All the trainings, research, presentation and networking opportunities, extracurricular activities, the people--everything about the program--was more than I could've asked for and I'm so grateful for the experience.

I am writing this shortly after the CIERA REU program has ended and I look forward to whatever the future holds. I am so excited to apply for grad school and to continue pursuing a career in physics research, and I will be grateful for wherever it takes me as long as my curiosity and appetite for learning about the nature of reality is satisfied.