Women in Astronomy: Advice for Students

After the conclusion of Women’s History Month, we at Astrobites invited some of the scientists who have influenced and inspired us throughout our careers to share their advice. Read on to hear their thoughts!

Dr. Laura Chomiuk

Michigan State University

Stellar evolution, stellar explosions, and their feedback effects

Advice: Everyone should read “The Secret Thoughts Of Successful Women“. And if you like astronomy, it probably means you really like learning, so don’t take your time as a student for granted.

Proudest Achievement: Last year I wrote a paper that used data from the VLA archive spanning nearly 50 years to understand the radio evolution of novae. I loved getting to take advantage of these old unloved data to make new discoveries, and also that I finished it in spite of some serious health challenges.

Dr. Ilse Cleeves

University of Virginia

Planet formation, protoplanetary disks, astrochemistry

Advice: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It can be scary when you are one of a few (or even the only) one of your identity in a room. But that makes your perspective even more valuable.

Proudest Achievement: Watching my students (graduate and undergraduate) present their work. Seeing them get out there, sharing their ideas with the world, is such a great moment as an advisor. And also watching how their presentations evolve over time as they become increasingly independent. 

Dr. Louise Edwards

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Formation and evolution of brightest cluster galaxies (BCGs), galaxies in cluster cores and in filaments

Advice: If you love it, do it! Don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing astronomy, and don’t give up. There are many paths that can lead to a life where you are doing astronomy everyday(night).  Everyone has tough times, and wonderful times. You should expect a mix of both 😉  Find someone to talk to about your plans and goals – this could be a colleague, mentor, family member, friend, etc. (To hear more from Dr. Edwards, listen to one of her interviews here!)

Proudest Achievement: [Getting tenure] represents a level of achievement that I have been working towards for years, if not decades. But, I also often remember back to when I was a graduate student, spending a summer at the ‘recinto’ in La Serena, Chile surrounded by astronomers from all over the world. I felt a real sense of inner achievement, and during that time learned how to reduce some complex 3D imaging-spectroscopy from the Gemini Telescope.  One thing I love about astronomy, is that there are tiny little discoveries that pop up, when investigating a dataset – but it can take a while to realize which are the really big ones. I think I get more fulfillment out of those little experiences.

Dr. Kathleen Saavik Ford

City University of New York (CUNY)

Black holes and extreme objects, gravitational waves, astro-seismology and high-contrast Imaging.

Advice: Build community — work with people who are good teammates, try to build a diversity of thinkers into the mix, and the rest will follow

Proudest Achievement: It is pretty cool to have developed one of the candidate channels for binary black hole mergers that are detected by LIGOVirgoKAGRA! I’m also extremely proud of the community of astronomers I’ve helped to build at CUNY and our many collaborations across NYC.

Dr. Nitya Kallivayalil

University of Virginia

Near-field cosmology, dark matter structure, and dynamics of the Local Group


  1. Conserve the joy: have an honest conversation with yourself about the things that you like the most about being an astronomer and devote time to those things
  2. Be a life-long learner: be open to learning from others at all stages in their careers
  3. Be consistent: work consistently towards your goals every day

Proudest Achievement: I’ve been proudest of the work I’ve done on graduate admissions, especially recruiting the next generation of URM astronomers.

Dr. Rafaella Margutti

University of California, Berkeley

Compact objects, supernovae, transient astrophysical phenomena

Advice: That as a young woman (or perceived so) you will get infinite unsolicited advice on every possible aspect of your life, professional and not, by your peers, by those above, by those below, from left, from right: from every possible direction. We do not have to follow that advice.

Proudest Achievement: The serious answer is to have been able to build my own career path without compromising on core values that I strongly believe in. The less serious answer is to have repointed the most powerful X-ray telescopes in the world, and found sometimes zero photons (but other times I found X-rays from remarkable astrophysical events).

Dr. Emily Rice

Macaulay Honors College, CUNY

Astronomy on Tap, STARtorialist, low mass stars, brown dwarfs, directly-imaged exoplanets

Advice: Trust yourself, and be honest with yourself. I think a lot of the time I was too scared to admit my goals, because I was afraid of failing, or I was afraid of having goals that weren’t worthy of my grades, or graduate school, or what have you (conflicting fears in a way!). When I took chances to explore and have fun is when I learned the most about myself and what I wanted in my career.

Proudest Achievement: I am most proud of seeing my students define and achieve their goals, whatever those may be. 

Dr. Yuanyuan Su

University of Kentucky

Galaxy clusters and the intracluster medium, AGN feedback, X-ray astronomy, machine learning

Advice: Try to do a small project over the summer with your professor, to get some hands-on exercise of literature searching, coding, data analysis, etc, and learn to think logically and critically. It would be great if you can write it up or present it at a conference. Those could be valuable experience no matter what you will be doing in the future. 

Proudest Achievement: I am one of the pioneers to implement machine learning in my research field: galaxy clusters. And I developed and successfully taught a course on machine learning in astronomy for graduate and senior undergraduate students in my department. 

Astrobite edited by: Pratik Gandhi, Huei Sears, Sabina Sagynbayeva

Featured Image Credit: ESL Activities

About Isabella Trierweiler

I'm a fifth year grad student at UCLA. I'm interested in planet formation and I study the compositions of exoplanets using polluted white dwarfs. In my free time I like knitting, playing train games, and growing various fruit trees.

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