Career Development

Paths to Careers in Astrophysics

Apr
06
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Illustration: NASA/CXC/K.DiVona

Our blogger today is Dr. Wallace Tucker, who has worked on the Chandra project since its inception and has been involved with high-energy astrophysics for several decades. In one of his many roles, Wallace has served as the Chandra Science Spokesperson, helping non-experts understand and enjoy the amazing discoveries Chandra makes. He is the author of several popular books including one published by Smithsonian Books.


How did you get to be an astrophysicist working with the Chandra X-ray Observatory?

This is a question that almost all of us who work with Chandra get asked at one point or another. Apart from cocktail party conversation — not that astrophysicists go to that many cocktail parties, in my experience — the answer is relevant in terms of ongoing efforts to increase the number of young people seeking careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

And, on the principle that "none of us is as smart as all of us," it is important for maximizing the scientific return of Chandra to get as many people involved as possible. Think about it: some of the bright young minds working on Chandra data today were in elementary school when Chandra was launched!

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From Art to Astrophysics – and Back Again

Mar
02
Melissa Weiss Walter
Melissa Weiss Walter (Photo: Brin Deuk Morris)

We are thrilled to welcome Melissa Weiss Walter as a guest blogger. As Mel describes below, she served as the graphic designer, illustrator and social media developer for Chandra's publicity and outreach efforts for many years. Recently, she has scaled back her Chandra time to focus on her personal artistic endeavors. Thankfully, she remains part of the Chandra family and continues to contribute to Chandra releases.

I have been working with the Chandra team in various capacities for close to two decades. I began creating illustrations of black holes after graduating from the University of Rhode Island. Soon after Chandra launched, I was brought on board to continue as their science illustrator and also as their graphic designer. When MySpace took off like a rocket and we realized that social media was here to stay, I also took on the role as a social media administrator.

In 2015, after working with the team full-time for fourteen years, I made the decision to take a step back. I was able to continue just with my duties in science illustration so that I could pursue a career in fine art. Though I may have discontinued my time with Chandra on a full-time basis, I took with me the inspiration of many years looking at the wonders of our Universe through Chandra's eyes.

Before making the change, I had always loved the work I did with the Chandra team. However, I was so busy creating materials that I didn't have a lot of time to reflect on the content I was using. I knew what we did was important but I never realized how influenced I was becoming by the wonders we communicated with the public on a daily basis.

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Women in the High Energy Universe: Karla Guardado

Nov
22
Karla Guardado
Karla Guardado

Karla Guardado is an astrophysicist technical assistant at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She studied physics at MIT and wrote her thesis on “Preheating in New Higgs Inflation.”

I wanted to go into a career in astrophysics because I fell in love with space--its marvels and secrets. As I learned increasingly about physics in school, I became more and more inquisitive. It seemed like the more I thought I knew, I realized that there were actually so many more questions to be answered. I always had an affinity with science, but it was the desire to discover these unanswered questions about space that led me to a career in astrophysics.

I became interested in science at a very young age. I was always very inquisitive, but it wasn't until I began putting the scientific method to use that I understood what science could achieve. I loved every part of my science projects, the investigation, experimentation, and drawing conclusions. That was how I began to think of science as a future career.

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Modeling, Mapping and Made with Code: Two Summer Internships at the Chandra Operations Control Center

Aug
24

We are very pleased to welcome two special guest contributors to the Chandra blog. Amy Nuccitelli and Jonathan Brande both spent the summer of 2016 working as interns with the Chandra X-ray Observatory team at its Operations Control Center. Amy Nuccitelli will enter her junior year as a mathematics major at James Madison University in Harrison, VA, while Jonathan is pursuing a major in astronomy and a minor in computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park. We thank Amy and Jonathan both for their hard work on the Chandra mission and also for taking the time to share their experiences with the Chandra bog.

Jonathan Brande and Amy Nuccitelli
Jonathan Brande and Amy Nuccitelli
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Interning with Chandra

Sep
17
Alicia Goldstein
Alicia Goldstein

We welcome Alicia Goldstein, who was an intern at the Chandra X-ray Center this past summer, as our guest blogger. Ms. Goldstein, originally from Ellicott City, MD, is currently a senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where she majors in mechanical engineering. Prior to this summer, Ms. Goldstein was an intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lists working for NASA as her ideal career goal.

This summer, I worked on two separate projects. The first involved the development of a Python code that would display the defined and predicted positions and velocities of Chandra, and the second involved the analysis of the periods of the variable stars in the Chandra Variable Guide Star Catalog,, or VGuide, database. The coding project involved interpreting and manipulating previous code, as well as creating entirely new sections. Given an input of two data files, the code was able to output a file with plots of the predicted and defined velocities and positions of the spacecraft.

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Meet an Astronomer: Paul Green (Part 2)

Mar
27

Paul Green is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His scientific research includes the study of quasars and carbon stars. He pursues these topics while working in Chandra's Director's Office, helping to ensure that the science of the telescope gets done smoothly. When he's not doing all of these things, Paul is also known to play a mean bass guitar.

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Meet an Astronomer: Paul Green (Part I)

Mar
05

Paul Green is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His scientific research includes the study of quasars and carbon stars. He pursues these topics while working in Chandra's Director's Office, helping to ensure that the science of the telescope gets done smoothly. When he's not doing all of these things, Paul is also known to play a mean bass guitar.

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Women In The High-Energy Universe: Megan Watzke

Feb
11

Megan Watzke is the press officer for NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Her responsibilities include writing press releases, organizing press conferences, and more for newsworthy results from the telescope. She is also a co-investigator in the "From Earth to the Universe," "From Earth to the Solar System," and "Here, There and Everywhere" projects.

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Never give up and trust your intuition

Dec
18

We are very pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, who led the work described in our latest press release. Julie was raised in Montreal, Canada, and in 2007 completed a Bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Montreal. Julie then obtained a Master’s degree in astrophysics. In 2012, she completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge. She is currently an Einstein Fellow at Stanford University.

It was during my Master degree at the University of Montreal that I realized just how fascinating black holes are.

Schematic of a Black Hole

I remember stumbling upon a press release from Chandra in 2007. The Chandra space telescope revealed an image of a jet, powered by a supermassive black hole, blasting through its neighboring galaxy. What's so fascinating? Supermassive black holes are tiny objects, about a billion times smaller than the galaxy it resides in, yet, it can create jets that extend well beyond the size of the galaxy! How can something so small be so powerful?

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From the Chalkboard to the Diving Board

Dec
04

Stacie Powell is currently a Ph.D. student in astrophysics at Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, England. She also took a break this past summer to compete in the 10-meter diving platform competition for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Stacie took some time from her busy schedule to discuss her academic and career path thus far.

I have always had a very questioning mind and liked to learn how the physical processes and objects we see around us can be explained so simply by mathematics. The biggest question in life -- "How did we get here?" -- has always intrigued me. I find astronomy very rewarding as it provides small clues, which are beginning to be pieced together and help us answer this question and, ultimately, to understand the Universe we live in.

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