Sarah Ballard - 2017 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Torres Fellow for Exoplanetary Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
Country of Birth: USA
I took an astronomy class as a college freshman to meet a science requirement and soon realized I loved this field of study.
I’m a prize postdoctoral fellow, which gives me freedom to explore my own ideas and research program. I’m most interested in exoplanets: planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. I split my time between conducting my own research and advising undergraduate and graduate students on their research projects. My responsibilities also include speaking to other departments and at conferences about my work.
Self-doubt has been my constant companion as an astronomer. I educate myself so that I understand how implicit bias within science and our culture broadly shaped how I view my abilities and my potential. I wish someone had told younger Sarah that the things I once thought were liabilities (like my need for meaningful social connection in my work, and my innate gentle nature) are actually strengths that make me a better scientist.
When tough times come in your studies and work, remind yourself of the things you really value about yourself: your sense of humor, your relationships, your creativity. Setting aside 10 minutes to write about that eases the burden of cultural background noise about who is a scientist and who isn’t, and it especially helps women within scientific settings.
I conduct myself with the guiding principle that I should be the person I most wanted and needed to see. Other women and girls are looking to you to try to understand what they can be and what they are capable of. Be the person for them that you once longed to see!