Unique Scientist: Sarafina Nance

Meet the cheerful Sarafina Nance (She/her)! Sarafina is a PhD student at UC Berkeley (@UCBerkeley) in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m an astrophysicist! I focus on supernovae (exploding stars). I try to figure out which sorts of stars explode, what they look like, and using supernovae to measure other parameters in the Universe like the rate of the expansion of the Universe.

In 6th grade I learned that I could study astronomy as a career, and I knew then that’s what I wanted & needed to do!

Sarafina Nance

What made you want to become a scientist?
I love asking questions, being curious, and wondering “why.” Apparently I used to bug my parents by asking “why” for *everything*. But it helped develop a curiosity for how the Universe works, what it’s composed of, and engage in some equally interesting questions like “Are we alone?” and “Why are we here?” This type of thinking seemed in line with what scientists devote their lives to. As for astronomy, I loved it since I was a kid. I listened to StarDate every evening and some of my favorite memories are stargazing with my dad in our backyard. In 6th grade I learned that I could study astronomy as a career, and I knew then that’s what I wanted & needed to do!

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I’m a brown woman in a predominantly white male field. Astronomy and physics are highly white male-dominated fields, so I’ve always felt out of place. My teachers and peers have almost always been white men. That’s made finding my place extremely difficult. I also find making a life outside of academia extremely important. I enjoy being social, and I love to be active. That means that, while astronomy is my career and I’m deeply passionate about it, it’s not my life!

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
OUTDOORS! I backpack and camp a lot. Summiting peaks and long weeks out in the middle of nowhere brings so much peace alongside adrenaline. I also love to ski– anything exciting that gets my heart rate up is something I’m interested in! I’ve also played tennis since I was 3 and played my first year of college. I coach kids and adults now.

“I’m a brown woman in a predominantly white male field. Astronomy and physics are highly white male-dominated fields, so I’ve always felt out of place.”

Sarafina Nance

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Equity in science (gender, race, etc.), which propagates down to harassment, unequal power dynamics, and getting people excited to do science. 

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now? My 11th grade astronomy teacher, Frank Mikan, is an absolute inspiration. His class was completely designed to make kids excited to do astronomy and not get too bogged down in the equations or the math. He taught us the mythologys behind constellations, watched Star Trek with us, and guided us on building our own wooden telescopes. We still keep in touch. I strive to be like him. 

“My 11th grade astronomy teacher, Frank Mikan, is an absolute inspiration. His class was completely designed to make kids excited to do astronomy and not get too bogged down in the equations or the math. […] We still keep in touch. I strive to be like him.”

Sarafina Nance

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I GOT MY CODE TO RUN!!!!! And I moved into a new apartment. That was equally exciting 🙂 

#WomenInSTEM, #BrownInSTEM

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