Over the last few months, I continuously worked to help move forward the research on the mysteries of space dust near the Andromeda Galaxy, with the additional goal of learning more astronomy and programming. Throughout the summer, I consistently accomplished new goals, both research-related and personal. As I progressed my goals evolved, allowing me to continue challenging myself while learning along the way. My communications with my supervisor helped me adapt and change course when needed in order to best meet my goals.
This internship gave me first-hand experience with the effort and challenges associated with conducting research full-time. As my supervisor explained to me several times, unlike assigned homework, there is not always a correct answer associated with the problem. Research requires an open mind and a willingness to explore every detail with intense concentration and focus. Completing this internship entirely remotely was an added challenge to this project, however I learned more about myself due to this situation. Although I enjoyed this internship and found this work very interesting, I learned that I work much better when working in a team. My productivity definitely increases when I’m able to work through issues and bounce ideas off of my peers.
If I could give advice to a future student looking into completing a similar internship, I would first ask them what they are interested in and why. It is very important to understand exactly what piques their curiosity in order for them to maintain passion for their work. Showing up to work every day with a desire to continue unlocking the mysteries associated with their project will allow them to push forward even when the going gets tough. When they are stumped and not sure how to continue, their interest in the subject will help them prevail and think critically about the proper ways in which to move forward. Additionally, it is very important that they have a willingness to accept constructive criticism and an ability to learn from their mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes during research, but those that can find and learn from them are the most successful. Finally, I would explain that being an open and reliable team member will help everyone accomplish more together, as they will create a successful give and take relationship.
Through all of the difficult and stressful parts of the internship, the most rewarding part was the recognition from my supervisor about my gradual, but huge increase in ability to work independently and produce quality results. The learning curve for this internship was very steep, but as I continued working each part began clicking more quickly. As a result of my perseverance my work and subsequently my confidence improved. Looking back at the beginning of my internship to now, the entire process of struggling and learning left me with a a feeling of gratification.
Over the last eight weeks, I learned so much not only about the topic of my project, but also how to best manage my time and succeed while working remotely. Almost every day, simple questions arise that could easily and quickly be answered in person. Yet in this remote setting, the challenges of ascertaining answers take extra time away from moving forward with the project. As an example, towards the beginning of this internship I had a question about how to use a certain feature on SAOImage DS9, an astronomical imaging and data visualization application. Instead of receiving an immediate answer from a collaborator in my group as I would in an in-person setting, I needed to wait two days to get a reply from the help desk. The constant back and forth with my supervisor and several help desks results in slowed progress, however it also pushes me to search and learn more about these topics. Although at times working remotely can prove to be frustrating, I have learned that patience and perseverance go a long way towards helping me achieve my goals.
As a result of the World of Work Fellowship, I am able to participate in this fascinating astronomical research. This position is my first time working as part of a research team, which has been unlike any experience, school or work, that I have had before. During the school year, so much time is focused on attending classes, finishing assignments on time, studying for exams, and getting extra help when needed that the whole process becomes monotonous and predictable. On the other hand, working as a researcher on an entirely new project provides unique experiences and allows room for exploration. Instead of reading from a textbook to learn assigned material, I need to find many different sources to piece together enough valuable information for my specific topic so that I can proceed with certainty and know that I’m doing each step correctly. This interesting process ensures that every day I learn about new concepts and accomplish new pieces of the project.
At the start of this internship I set out with several goals intended to help me academically and towards future career plans. One of the most important skills I built during this project is my ability to continue searching for solutions to a question until I reach a suitable answer. Developing this skill is invaluable towards future successes. Additionally, I have learned a lot about astronomy and data analysis skills. Furthermore, throughout this internship I exclusively coded in Python, enhancing my programming abilities as well as expanding my knowledge of programming languages. As I continue in my studies at Brandeis the experience I gained will help me in my pursuit of science, scientific research, and the learning process. Additionally, learning to forge my own way using resources that I also need to identify has expanded the way I think and will influence all that I do in the future both academically and in extra-curricular activities.
Have you ever looked up at the sky during a very clear night and wondered what is really out there? The expansiveness of the universe continually boggles my mind. In the hopes of learning more about the star dust from whence we all came I decided to search for an astronomy internship for the summer. I was fortunate enough to land a research project under Professor Daniel Wang in the Astronomy Department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
For this internship I am studying the dust attenuation curve, which determines the amount of interstellar absorption and scattering of light as a function of wavelength, in the central region of the nearby Andromeda galaxy. The determination of the attenuation curve is critical for astronomers to probe the intrinsic properties of galaxies, as well as interstellar dust. Existing studies have shown evidence that the attenuation curve is steeper in this galaxy than in the Milky Way. Additionally, the strong 2175 Angstrom attenuation bump appears to vary among different dusty clumps in the region. In order to better understand these important characteristics of the attenuation properties and their spatial variation, we have obtained spectroscopic data from the Hubble Space Telescope STIS observations of two prominent dusty clumps. Results from this study compared with previous multi-wavelength data will further our knowledge with regard to what causes the steep slope of the attenuation curve in the region, and how the variation of the curve depends on the properties and environments of the clumps. This research is important for us to use the central region as a laboratory to explore how high-energy activity in a galactic nucleus affects its environment.
Thus far, I started processing the Hubble Space Telescope data to extract spectra, and soon I hope to confront them with models to better understand the dust properties in the extreme nuclear environment of the galaxy. My work focuses on the dusty clumps within the blue box, as seen in the figure above. While working on this project I have learned a great deal about astronomy, data analysis, programming, and the patience required for conducting research. Every day my goal is to accomplish a few small things so that over time these successes will add up towards a significant result.