Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Scholar Spotlight: Jennifer Medina

This is the third of five blog post focused on our 2016 summer scholars.  This week we focus on Jennifer Medina, who is working with Dr. Andrew Mann on exoplanet research in the TAURUS program.  Jennifer is a physics major (and astronomy major) at Florida International University.  Dr. Mann talks here about Jennifer's research focus and career aspirations.

This summer, Jennifer joined us as a TAURUS scholar to help characterize some of the the youngest planets and the stars they orbit. She'll be working to understand the relationship between the orientation of the stellar spin and that of the planetary orbit in infant stars, something that can help us understand how planets change over their lifetimes.

I sat down and spoke with Jennifer about her research interests, path, and future plans.

Jennifer became interested in astronomy and more generally about her path up to now. She grew up in Miami, Florida, and first became interested in astronomy at the age of 13 after taking an Earth-Space science course. Her passion for astronomy and physics only grew with time. By age 16, through further exposure in classes and her own exploration, she had her mind set on studying physics wherever she ended up in college. She later joined Florida International University, where she currently majors in Physics with a minor in astronomy.

Jennifer quickly got involved in research, working on transiting planets at Florida International with Professor Van Hamme. Early in her undergraduate career, she felt that she wasn’t fitting in the mold of an astronomer, making her feel alienated from the rest of the students. After spending some time doing research she felt more confident that her efforts were producing results, and became less worried about fitting into the stereotype of a scientist. She grew to love the free-form of research. The chance to follow her own route to solve a problem and the lack of a concrete path made it very different from classwork, but also extremely appealing. Her results from modeling the orbits of transiting planets is something she has become especially proud of, and is glad to have the chance to continue on a related topic. She advises anyone doing research to be willing to experiment with anything, since it’s often unclear from where the solution will come. A motto that has come in handy often both during her earlier work and for her ongoing TAURUS project.

The TAURUS program was particularly appealing to Jennifer. Florida International has only a few astronomers, so the opportunity to work with a wider range of researchers was particularly attractive. Although she has some past experience with research, in our 9-week program, she hopes to get a better feel for the graduate school experience, and get a more solid idea of what specifically she wants to work on. Furthermore, she welcomes the opportunity to expand her skills with Python and knowledge of exoplanets more generally.

Jennifer plans to attend graduate school in 2017. She hopes to continue with research on exoplanets and their host stars. While right now her goals are to follow an academic path: graduate school to postdoc, to research position or professorships, she welcomes any path forward that keeps her doing research.

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