Her story: Deryl Long is an astronomy undergraduate student from Saint Augustine, Florida. She has had a general curiosity in astronomy ever since she went on a road trip out west with her dad and brothers and saw the Milky Way in the sky for the first time. At that time she was only 14, but by high school she knew that it was something she was passionate about. Thankfully, she had a lot of great teachers in high school who encouraged her and helped her to pursue her interests.
Current interests: In terms of astronomy, Deryl is primarily interested in studying exoplanets. Because she views being an astronomer as being an explorer, to her it is the coolest thing in the world to be able to produce maps and achieve a better understanding of the structures of other planets. “It’s a way of living out a modern day role of being an explorer and an adventurer through the tools of being a scientist,” she said.
Her time at U-M: When Deryl first started at the University of Michigan, she faced a lot of struggles, the biggest being learning to manage her imposter syndrome. When she started taking physics and math classes, she noticed that there was a very clear gender imbalance and began having internalized doubts and fears that she didn’t belong in the field. Deryl worried that by doing poorly on a test she would be letting other women down or that people would think she was dumb.
Managing her fears has been one of the most challenging hurdles for Deryl, but she has found great support from the astronomy faculty, especially Emily Rauscher, who has been her research advisor. “Emily really helped me to cope with the stress by being a very present and supportive mentor, and showing me that I could develop the skills needed to be a good researcher,” said Deryl. “Every time I had a research meeting with her she would help me to see that research is collaborative, exciting, and I was capable of doing it.”
What’s next for Deryl?: After completing her undergraduate studies, Deryl is hoping to pursue her Ph.D., but she is open to a lot of other career ideas as well. Next year she plans on applying to grad schools and fellowships that may allow her to study abroad. However, for Deryl, a big part of her future goals include making the field of astronomy a more comfortable and inclusive space.
“I’m really interested in research and learning as much as I can about the universe – namely other planets – but I also think a crucial aspect of any career for me is knowing that I’m making a social impact as well.”