Unique Scientist: Taylor Hutchison

Meet Unique Scientist Taylor Hutchison (She/Her)! Taylor currently lives in the USA where she is a grad student at Texas A&M University!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am an astrophysicist studying some of the most distant galaxies ever found, using one of the largest telescopes on Earth to do so. Also sometimes I hug telescopes (see photo at the bottom of this post!).

What made you want to become a scientist?
When I was younger, I loved Math which made me think that I had to be a Mathematician. When I went to high school, I realized Math was essentially Applied Physics, so then I wanted to be a Physicist. When I went to undergraduate, I realized that Astronomy/Astrophysics was essentially Applied Physics, so I decided to be an Astrophysicist. It definitely doesn’t hurt that uncovering the mysteries of the Universe makes me feel like a Science Officer on a Federation (Star Trek) vessel!

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?  
As we all know, the STEM fields are still predominantly male-centric, however some fields are beginning to crack that glass ceiling. The divide grows even stronger if you account for all under-represented peoples and their many intersections. I had to support myself through undergraduate and while my Physics dept. and the university provided scholarships and grants, I had to live off-campus to save money and for one year I didn’t even have a bed. As a full-time student, I worked a lot of jobs to support myself; it was hard, but I don’t regret any of it as it forced me to hone my work ethic which has been invaluable in graduate school. Also, as a bisexual I often feel invisible in any community (including LGBTQIA+ groups at times) as my orientation is generally not respected or acknowledged by a broad variety of people.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I really enjoy finding new, creative uses for old or used products — especially with trash that people would normally throw away, as we have enough problems with wastefulness and existing trash in this world. I call it “frenetic crafting” as there’s never a logical flow to what project I work on and I often have several going on at once. I also love dreaming up and getting tattoos that channel the other dream job I wish I could simultaneously have: marine biology (see photo for one, and there’s an enormous octopus piece in the works…)

“Failure is incredibly important for future success and it’s how you learn how to improve for the next time you try.”

Taylor Hutchison

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be? 
I wish we could normalize and celebrate failure, no matter how big or small. Failure is incredibly important for future success and it’s how you learn how to improve for the next time you try. Failure and/or lack of success can be very damaging to one’s mental health, and I believe that part of that is because we only ever praise the best successes. It can also be affected by how you interpret failure — in my field, non-detections are often counted as failures, but they are still important results that should be celebrated!

“[…] the STEM fields are still predominantly male-centric, however some fields are beginning to crack that glass ceiling. The divide grows even stronger if you account for all under-represented peoples and their many intersections.”

Taylor Hutchison

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I would have to say my friends. They have been so supportive of me, always so confident that I can do anything regardless of my own confidence in myself. If my telescope proposal is funded or not, if I feel burned out and need a break, or if I feel stupid or question why I’m in my field, a lot of what drives me to keep going is knowing that they believe in me and will always be proud. A lot of them are also scientists, which is wonderful and we all support one another.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
Can I give two things? Well, one of them is that this weekend I attended a national organizing meeting of host institutions for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (will be Jan 2020 across the USA+Canada, spread the word!). I learned so much and I am so excited to be organizing the very conference that inspired me to stay in Physics during my hardest years in undergraduate. The second thing is that I got my formerly semi-feral, cautious, and shy cat to let me pet her! To be honest I’m probably most ecstatic about this one, it’s a huge positive step in our relationship.

 #WomenInSTEM #QueerInSTEM #BiInSci

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