Hillary Head

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Alumni Spotlight

Hillary Head

BS, Physics, Austin Peay State University

What she does:

Head is a telescope operations specialist. She operates and helps maintain the Dunn Solar Telescope in Sunspot, New Mexico. Sunspot is a remote community in the Sacramento Mountains.

How she got there:

Head is in love with astronomy, and has been since she took an undergraduate-level course at Austin Peay as a high schooler. Her professor invited her on a data-collection trip to Kitt Peak National Observatory, and after that trip, she was sold.

Three internships (including two at Fermilab) and four data-collection trips (three to Kitt Peak, one to Chile) later, Head realized that she liked the hands-on aspect of research most. "Collecting data, doing the troubleshooting... I realized maybe I should be looking for jobs like that." Her undergraduate advisor helped her narrow down her options, and she landed a job at the Dunn Solar Telescope.

Best part about her job:

"The data that we collect is actually being used for a lot of new science. When I was looking for jobs… the major things for me [were] getting to stay a part of the scientific community and contributing to new research in a way I find enjoyable."

Most frustrating part about her job:

You might think it's living in a remote community with roughly 20 other people around, but the most frustrating part of her job is actually funding uncertainty. "It's hard to plan for the future, and that's what's really challenging," she says. "It seems like science is always the first thing to get cut."

How she's building community:

"We have our monthly potlucks and game nights to keep the community together," she says. In addition to her coworkers, just across the ridge is the Apache Point Observatory. Occasionally the two groups get together to connect, talk about work, and learn from each other.

One of the other advantages to working at the Dunn Solar Observatory, Head adds, is that the telescope is open to the public. "There are no glass walls that keep [tourists] away from us. I like being able to talk to people and inspire their interest. The tourists we get are [often] retired science teachers or engineers."

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