Week Nine: Exploring passions in science

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Friday, July 30, 2021


Madison Brewer

I started tying up loose ends, putting things neatly back on the shelf, and making my preparations to leave. But I also spent some time this week thinking about what I love to do—and why I love it. 

Christine and I spoke about finishing everything up before my last day. My text for the September Back Scatter needed to be shared with editors and my Physics Olympiad story needed the final touches. That part was a little hectic. Emailing for pictures, for extra information the editors wanted, for researchers’ approval of the drafts. But I got it done! And my Physics Olympiad story was published!

I realized, however, that I hadn’t written a single story about astronomy. Astronomy is the reason I got into physics, and I’ve always said that I only put up with physics for astronomy. To spend a whole summer writing for a physics magazine but fail to write about astronomy—well, it seemed pretty crazy to me. So I decided to write one last update for the Physics Today website. It will be a lot of work to get it done in time, but I know I can do it. 

And I think this extra work is worth it. Writing is my second love, but astronomy is my first. My goals, my dream jobs, they revolve around writing about astronomy. I had to take this opportunity to do it. (Plus, I’d like to have a published sample piece about astronomy for job applications.) I’ve already sent this last article for its first round of edits, so I think I’m right on track to have it done in time. 

This week our virtual talk was from Dr. Matt Wright from Adelphi University. He talked about a lab space on their campus where students can explore original projects and get their first taste of research. Students can pursue projects that reflect the amount of time they can give to them and their level of physics skills and abilities. I really wish we had something like that on my campus. 

As a freshman, I had a really hard time seeing myself as a scientist. I resigned myself to being a teacher or maybe some kind of museum employee. I got a job at the Houston Museum of Natural Science as a teaching assistant for their summer camps while my friends stayed in Pittsburgh doing research with an astronomy professor. And then I changed my major to astronomy and non-fiction writing and started taking more humanities classes. Sophomore year, I got a job doing science communication at a nearby university. I had a job in my field! I didn’t need research for my career, so there didn’t seem to be any point in trying. Plus, lots of people I know had found it painfully difficult to find a professor willing to take them. Now I only have one year left and I regret never even trying research. But it seems too late. 

I often wonder how my life would be different if I made different choices. If I had tried, could I have started a research project? And if I did, would I have liked it? Would I be planning to go to graduate school? To become a professor? Or would I end up writing anyway? 

Dr. Wright’s talk brought a lot of these emotions to the surface. I am happy that his students are getting the support they need to find joy in physics.  Finding myself in the science writing niche helped me become confident in myself as a physics (well, astronomy) major. And I love writing, I really do. But I wonder if, given the chance early on, I would say that about research. 

I have had extra room in my college schedules, so I’ve signed up for classes I never would have as a freshman. Last semester, I took intro to fiction. Next semester, I’m taking geology—just because it seems cool. I am not where I thought I’d be when I took my first physics class in high school. But I’m somewhere I love to be, and that's even better. 


Madison Brewer (she/her)