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Marie Curie

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Dr. Chiara Mingarelli, Astrophysicist, Flatiron Institute

14 May, 2018

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli [Image: Flatiron Institute]

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli [Image: Flatiron Institute]

Rocket Women are thrilled to feature astrophysicist and trailblazing role model Dr.Chiara Mingarelli. Chiara tells Rocket Women about how she was inspired as a child by Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, the importance of supporting those marginalized in STEM and giving a talk to Jeff Bezos at the Amazon MARS event!

Tell me about your journey to astrophysics and to where you are now? 

I grew up in a small town called Rockland, Ontario, close to Ottawa – the capital of Canada. I loved looking up at the night sky, full of stars, and dreaming of making a discovery. When I found out about black holes, and that one could study black holes for a living, I was hooked! I did my undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Physics at Carleton University in Ottawa, and then moved to Europe to pursue my graduate work. I did my Master’s degree at the University of Bologna in Italy, and my PhD in the UK, at the University of Birmingham, where there is a large gravitational-wave group. After my PhD, I won a Marie Curie Fellowship, which I took to Caltech for 2 years, after which I had to return to Europe.

When I found out about black holes, and that one could study black holes for a living, I was hooked!

I spent the final year of my fellowship in Bonn, Germany, at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. This whirlwind tour brings us to today! After my year in Bonn, I got an offer to join the new Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute in New York, as a Flatiron Research Fellow. This is where I am now! It’s a great place to work: my colleagues are all world-class and I have been able to expand my research interests (and soon publications!) through my conversations with them.

What are your favourite things about your workday?

I love talking to my colleagues. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by some of the brightest minds in astronomy and astrophysics, and it is a joy to talk to them about their work and how it sometimes interfaces with mine. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a day when I have a great idea! This is really the best part of my job – thinking of new ways to learn about the Universe that other people have overlooked.

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli with Dr. Christine Moran (NASA JPL) and NASA Astronaut Yvonne Cagle

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli with Dr. Christine Moran (NASA JPL) and NASA Astronaut Yvonne Cagle

Who were your role models when you were growing up? How important are role models to young women?

My parents read me Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, to me as a bedtime story. I learned that Marie Curie won 2 Nobel Prizes, so I set out to win 3! This was before I found out that only two women have ever won the prize, despite there being a huge pool of talent to draw from, so I am not particularly hopeful of this anymore. Instead, I hope to be a role model myself, and encourage women to pursue what they are passionate about, especially in STEM fields where we are underrepresented.

My parents read me Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, to me as a bedtime story. I learned that Marie Curie won 2 Nobel Prizes, so I set out to win 3!

One of my modern role models was Dana Scully in the X-Files. She was a serious, skeptical scientist who I deeply admired, and was in turn respected by her colleagues for her keen intellect. I was also inspired by Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, who was the first Canadian woman astronaut, and continue to be inspired by trailblazers like Jane Goodall – a pioneer in primate studies. I believe role models to be of crucial importance to young women, even though they may not realize it. It’s hard to imagine who you want to be if you’ve never seen anyone who looks like you being an astronaut for example.

One of my modern role models was Dana Scully in the X-Files. She was a serious, skeptical scientist who I deeply admired, and was in turn respected by her colleagues for her keen intellect. I was also inspired by Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, who was the first Canadian woman astronaut, and continue to be inspired by trailblazers like Jane Goodall — a pioneer in primate studies.

Chiara with Adam Savage from the TV show MythBusters at the Amazon MARS event

Chiara with Adam Savage from the TV show MythBusters at the Amazon MARS event

Was there anything unexpected about your career journey that you thought would be different to your initial expectations?

I didn’t expect there to be such a sharp transition from the way people interacted with me as a undergraduate student to a graduate (PhD) student. As an undergraduate I couldn’t understand why I would need feminism, everything seemed fine, why waste one’s breath? As a PhD student I was shocked at the huge differences in which men and women were treated.

As an undergraduate I couldn’t understand why I would need feminism, everything seemed fine, why waste one’s breath? As a PhD student I was shocked at the huge differences in which men and women were treated. This was my first experience with being frequently interrupted, not being listened to and having other claim your ideas as their own a few minutes after you share your idea. It was like being in another dimension.

This was my first experience with being frequently interrupted, not being listened to and having other claim your ideas as their own a few minutes after you share your idea. It was like being in another dimension. This has also taught me the importance of being an ally to those who suffer these experiences more regularly than I, and are marginalized in different ways due to their race or gender nonconformity, for example.

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career so far?

I am fortunate to have had many rewarding moments in my career. The most memorable are giving a talk in Feynman’s lecture theatre at Caltech when I was a postdoc there, giving a talk to Jeff Bezos and the amazing people gathered at the “Amazon MARS” event this year in Palm Springs, and seeing my 2017 Nature Astronomy paper published after more than 1.5 years working on it!

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently?

Don’t ever stop believing in yourself. You’re amazing, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.