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Erin May

Erin May at the Magellan Telescopes in Chile

Her story: Erin is a Michigan native, originally from the Flint area. She attended undergrad at Michigan State University where she studied astrophysics and mathematics. Unlike many astronomy students, Erin didn’t grow up fascinated by the night sky. In the end, it was really the research that drew her to the field.

Having started out as a physics major at Michigan State, she soon realized that she didn’t really enjoy the type of research that was being done. On a whim, she took an astronomy course just for fun. The course was all about planets and she immediate fell in love with the subject matter.

When she was applying to grad school, Erin knew that she wanted to continue studying planets. In undergrad she only had opportunities for studying black holes, so she made sure to apply to places that offered many opportunities for the study of planets. While she looked at Michigan, she noticed that the University had been hiring more faculty in exoplanets and that the department was really trying to expand their program.

Her interests: Erin’s Ph.D. studies have focused mostly on small gas planets. As part of her research, she has used the Magellan telescopes in Chile to study the composition of the atmospheres of those planets to find out if they have clouds or if they have blue skies like those here around Earth.

Her advice to future astronomy students: When it comes to grad school, Erin admits that it is a big challenge. She sometimes feels some Imposter Syndrome and begins to doubt her capability to do science. Her advice to future students is quite simple: use your time wisely and don’t lose confidence in your abilities.

“Grad school is a big challenge,” said Erin. “There is always so much going on so time management can be difficult. Being confident in your own work is a challenge and is something that a lot of people face.”

What’s next for Erin?: Erin plans to defend her thesis in late May. After that, she has a job lined up at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. That institute operates the Hubble Telescope, and Erin will be working on analyzing exoplanet data from the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. Being so close to Washington, DC. Erin is excited to get more involved in science policy and she plans to advocate for science funding to Congress.