Aayushi aspires to be a theoretical astrophysicist. She is in her second year studying towards a BSc in Astronomy and Mathematics at the University of Canterbury.
What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?
I am a university student, so a typical work day for me involves going to my lectures and attending tutorials or labs. I can also be in the library, going over the lectures I’ve had so far, making post-lecture notes, working on any assignments, and studying.
Some days I study with my friends in a study group, which means that we meet up and discuss the week’s lectures, or go over assignments together.
In the evenings, I attend university club meetings or events, public lectures, go stargazing at the R. F. Joyce Observatory 45 minutes from where I live, or study some more.
What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?
I have always been passionate about science, and so science-related subjects have always been a staple as a school subject. In my senior years, I took subjects like maths with calculus, physics, chemistry, digital technologies, and French. As a junior, apart from the core subjects (English, maths, science, social studies and technologies), I loved taking art, drama and French.
I knew I wanted to be an astrophysicist when I was in Year 11, and so I researched what universities in New Zealand I would go to, and what courses I could study there.
After I graduated from high school, I started studying at the University of Canterbury. I am now (2019) in my second year studying a Bachelor’s of Science degree, majoring in Astronomy and Mathematics. Last year I took courses on physics, maths, astronomy/astrophysics and programming, but this I am doing only physics and maths courses.
Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?
Taking maths, physics, chemistry and digital technologies in my senior years of high school definitely helped me prepare for the challenging university courses. I'm also finding the courses I've been doing at university so useful - for both more advanced courses and extracurricular career-related activities.
For example, the first course on astrophysics I did laid a solid foundation for me, and helped me develop a basic understanding of the field of astrophysics, as we learnt about stellar formation, and galaxies/cosmology. Being exposed to these different subtopics in astrophysics helped me think deeply about my research interests.
The next semester, I took the ‘Observational Astronomy’ course, which was more independent as it involved me thinking of a research project, planning it, executing it, and writing presentation material on it. I wanted to learn more about galaxies, their morphology (structure), and how they are classified, and so I had to research which galaxies I wanted to observe, which telescopes at Mt. John Observatory at Lake Tekapō I wanted to use to observe my galaxies, taking a field trip down to Mt John Observatory to observe these galaxies myself, and then analysing the data and writing a report on it.
My previous knowledge on basic astrophysics helped me work on this observational astronomy course really well, and reinforced my love for astrophysics, so I became a lot more motivated in studying astronomy.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?
Believe in yourself!
If you are passionate about something, do some research, and talk to people in the field about your potential career – find out what your career entails, and what you need to do in your current position to get there.
In my experience, the most important thing is keeping an open mind, as you never know what opportunities can change the course of your career.
What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?
At high school, I applied for and got selected to a few science-related camps or gatherings, such as Hands-On at Otago in 2016, where I worked on a project on Physics, Powering Potential in 2016, where my team and I worked on a project related to industrialisation, the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) Conference in 2017, where I was one of 10 students fully-funded to attend the professional astronomy conference, and Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, USA, where I was one of 4 students selected from New Zealand to attend.
At university, one of my main highlights has definitely been taking the ‘Observational Astronomy’ course, as it has inspired me to do several things. One is that I am now working on becoming an ‘accredited member’ at my astronomical society so that I can use the telescopes on my own and perhaps do my observations. I am also working on a self-directed extended research project on the same topic of galaxy morphology and classification.
A few of my more recent highlights are that I spent my summer vacation (2018 – 2019) in the USA, and got an internship with an esteemed Physics professor at Brown University in Rhode Island. I am working on a research project with him. I also formed a club at my university, the ‘New Zealand Students’ Space Association: Christchurch Chapter’ and am the Vice-President. We are an academically-focused club and are working on promoting not only space science and astronomy to people, but also other interdisciplinary subjects used in the field, like geology, biology, computer science, and more. I have also started a blog, where I write about topics in science which interests me.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?
New Zealand is a beautiful country. It is also a small country. I believe that by putting New Zealand on the world map, we can help our country grow. One of the best ways to do this is through STEM fields.
New Zealand has a lot of opportunities for science, technology, engineering and maths. Take, for example, New Zealand’s diverse ecosystem. A lot of researchers are deeply interested in studying the flora and fauna, the land, the ocean and the weather patterns displayed all over New Zealand. By engaging with STEM, we, as New Zealanders, can truly appreciate our country and our culture more, and have a deeper feeling of belonging.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?
I think women are too underrepresented in STEM careers. As a young child, I aspired to be a scientist, but when I used to think of the word ‘scientist’, I would envision a white-haired old man in a lab coat, cackling madly in a lab somewhere. It was hard to imagine myself as a woman in science.
However, as I have observed over the years, there are lots of women working in STEM who inspire me a lot. I believe that it is important in the field of science for everyone’s viewpoints, on the basis of scientific merit, to be allowed to contribute for the betterment of humanity, which is why we need more passionate women in STEM!
Aayushi is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Canterbury, studying towards her Bachelors’ of Science in Astronomy and Mathematics. She is Indian-American-Kiwi, and aspires to be a theoretical astrophysicist.
In her spare time, she is a member of the Canterbury Astronomical Society and stargazes a lot. She is also the co-founder and Vice-President of the New Zealand Students’ Space Association: Christchurch Chapter club at her university, and in addition, she maintains a blog where she writes articles about topics in science which fascinate her.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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