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- ASTRO 461: Ground-Based Observatories
Career Goal: Astronomy professor
Her Story: Sierra Grant discovered astronomy during an independent study senior year of high school. She chose U-M because she could try astronomy, but knew every department would be strong if she changed majors. She decided on astro and never looked back. “I get to apply math and physics to the study of stars,” she says. “Astronomy brings everything I enjoy together.”
Favorite Experiences: Research with Professor Nuria Calvet on the evolution of circumstellar disks; Astro 461, an observing course held at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona; and the preparation for graduate school.
How She Started Research: After interviewing Professor Calvet for the Women in Science and Engineering Program, Sierra asked if she could work with her. “I was a complete novice; I was just starting my first astro class,” she says, “but Professor Calvet took me on, integrated me into her research group, and taught me programming and research techniques.” Sierra’s been working with her ever since and hopes to have a paper ready for publication before she graduates.
"With the department's help, I feel very prepared for graduate school and beyond."
— Sierra Grant
Astro 461: “This class was incredible,” says Sierra. “We did everything we’d do as practicing astronomers, including writing research proposals for a mock time-allocation committee. It was also a great complement to the research I do here, where I’m looking at data someone else has collected. At Kitt Peak, I used the telescope to collect the data myself. This really made me appreciate the process.”
Grad-School Readiness: “With the department's help, I feel very prepared for graduate school and beyond,” says Sierra. This preparation came in a number of ways. One is the poster sessions the department and public attend, where students build skills in explaining their research in a clear, concise way. The other is Professor Calvet’s research meetings, where members of her group discuss their progress and brainstorm approaches. “I wouldn’t know what grad students or postdocs do without seeing what they were working on in these meetings,” she says. “This has really helped me envision my future and see what I need to prepare for.”