Week 4: Yes, And: Confirming My Path

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Sunday, June 27, 2021


Hannah Wistrand

This past week has been pretty tricky. I’m getting into more analysis and engagement work, trying to understand the audience we are reaching with this project against science misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. We sent out the survey (which I’m actually pretty proud of) on Wednesday and by Thursday we had 120 responses. Being a student whose forms usually only go out to other students and who *may* see numbers upwards of...10… this response was very exciting and I couldn’t wait to get started on analysis. I think this response has really given me a boost of energy in this position.


It has been a tough couple of weeks as this project has shifted its timeline and there has been what has felt like a lot of waiting. But that’s what happens when you work with the public. Everyone has their own complex lives and even the fact that they are willing to take some of their time to try and engage in programs like ours is exceptional. 


This experience has been incredibly validating for me as a student who has always worried that a scientific career would not be fulfilling to me in its community-orientation. Being able to see how many physicists are passionate about improving their communities or working to provide more resources and support to their peers in science, engineering, humanitarian work, policy, and service has really settled some of those fears for me. I don’t feel like my only path will be science communication or policy (both of which I find incredibly interesting), but I could work as a political advocate while being a researcher, or as a diplomatic advisor, or run for political office. While I used to fear being boxed in in this wide field of physics, I am really starting to have my career decision reaffirmed in its complex entirety. I’ve always felt I was headed down a different path than a lot of my STEM peers, and I am excited to be learning that I have made some good decisions along the way.


Another moment of affirmation this week came during a lunch with 2006 Physics Nobel Prize recipient, Dr. John Mather. Dr. Mather’s career has always interested me, exciting the astrophysics student in me. But in having this opportunity to actually have a discussion with him, I learned more about the values he carries for positive and effective communication skills and support for young scientists. I asked him about his stance on the neutrality of science and while that question stumped him a bit (he did have some good insight into how we must remember that innovation of science has historically also led to innovation of war, and suggested the read: Accessory to War by Neil deGrasse Tyson), I was also able to get his input on the more personal matter of my decision to pursue a Master’s degree in material science. I have been incredibly nervous about this decision, knowing I value interdisciplinary work and skills, but not sure if the members of the astrophysics community would see that background as advantageous. Dr. Mather’s response surprised and delighted me. He said “the physics of materials is absolutely essential to the success of all our missions”. That was the greatest news I’ve heard in a long time.


All in all, it was a pretty successful, busy week. I also had the chance to go swing dancing at the Mercury Cafe in Denver on Thursday night. That was a blast! Me and my two left feet were very grateful to have two of my good friends and fellow physics students there who knew what they were doing and made it a fun experience. I’ve been trying to practice this attitude of “yes, and” in everything I do (while understanding and respecting my personal limits), and that night was a great example of when that attitude led to a memorable experience I may not have tried otherwise. 


So in summary, I encourage you to trust your instincts, follow your own path, and practice that “yes, and” mindset - you never know where it might lead you, personally or professionally.


And, as always,

Stay curious, everyone


Hannah Wistrand