Unique Scientist: Dr. Stephanie Hamilton

Time to meet the newest #UniqueTeam member, Dr. Stephanie Hamilton (she/her)! Stephanie is a recent PhD graduate in physics/astronomy from the University of Michigan in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a planetary scientist and observational astronomer. I just finished my PhD at the University of Michigan using the Dark Energy Survey (an astronomical sky survey that operated from 2012-2019) to study…not dark energy. Instead, I was using the data from the project to search for new Solar System objects orbiting the Sun out beyond Neptune!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I don’t think there was just one moment or event that made me want to be a scientist. Science was always my favorite subject in school — I wanted to learn more about how the world worked. I fell in love with astronomy specifically in my sixth grade science class, when we started learning about the Solar System. What do you mean there are entire worlds out there bigger than Earth that only look like tiny pricks of light in the night sky? How much farther does it go?? My understanding of my surroundings shattered then, and I was hooked.

“So many people think of scientists as nerdy, anti-social humans locked in a lab 24/7. But we’re all real humans with real interests.

Stephanie Hamilton

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
As a woman in STEM, I’m all too familiar with being one of the only people who look like me in the room. I never truly felt like the odd person out in physics until my upper-level undergraduate Electricity & Magnetism class, when I looked around and realized I was the only woman in the room. I think that was when the gender disparity in STEM really clicked for me. I’m now dedicated to advocating for all underrepresented minorities in STEM, both in increasing representation and supporting those who are already in STEM.

Somewhat relatedly, so many people think of scientists as nerdy, anti-social humans locked in a lab 24/7. But we’re all real humans with real interests like playing music or sports or creating art. For myself, I love marching bands, rock climbing, tennis, and basically anything outside! I think it’s so important to show these sides of ourselves on social media to humanize science and make it more accessible!

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I love to rock climb! I’m pretty new to it though, so I’m not very good yet. I also live in the Midwest. There aren’t many rock-climbing spots here (shocking, I know), so I’m itching to improve my skills and try some outdoor climbing out West!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Well, my one wish would be to change more than one thing….

But for real, I’d love to get rid of the “publish or perish” mindset, because I think that leads to a whole host of other issues. Yes, making progress in research is important, but so are family, friends, your mental well-being, public outreach, and supporting minorities. I’ve heard over and over that graduate students must work at least 60 hours per week or they won’t make it through. And while there are periods when such time commitment is necessary, I really dislike the expectation that it should be the norm. Not everyone is capable of being productive for 60-80 hours per week. As long as you’re making progress that you and your advisor are happy with, 40 hours a week should be perfectly acceptable. It is to most of the rest of the world, after all.

“One of the things that truly keeps me up at night is thinking about how many young women don’t pursue science because they don’t have anyone supporting them.

Stephanie Hamilton

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I’ve been so fortunate in my career to have a number of incredible mentors that have supported me along the way. But I have to say that my parents take the cake.

My dad tends to get more excited about what I or my brothers are interested than we even do. So once I indicated an interest in astronomy, I soon found myself with a nice pair of binoculars, astronomy books, a small telescope that could track the Earth’s rotation, and a Sky & Telescope magazine subscription. He also regularly drove me up the hill by our house to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.

My mom has always been my biggest role model. She’s an engineer and a math teacher, so I never felt that I didn’t belong in STEM. As I progressed through my degrees, I quickly realized how incredibly rare it actually is to have a woman in STEM in one’s immediate family. One of the things that truly keeps me up at night is thinking about how many young women don’t pursue science because they don’t have anyone supporting them or telling them that they DO belong. Supporting underrepresented minorities in STEM is now one of the things I’m most passionate about.


Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I joined the incredible #UniqueScientists team! I’m also proud of myself for continuing to listen to my mind, body, and soul and actually relax for once. This week is the first I’ve really started to feel like myself again after some pretty severe post-PhD burnout that I kept pushing down by continuing to do a thousand other things. Never underestimate the power of a good break.


#WomeninSTEM

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