Unique Scientist: Jessica Erkal

It’s #InternationalArtistsDay, so let’s meet Jessica Erkal (She/her)! Jessica is an astrophysicist working on her PhD at the University College Dublin in Ireland who comes from a family of tattoo artists!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a PhD student in astrophysics researching how stars form using different telescopes around the world to observe stellar jets. My goal is to understand how these jets can affect star formation and if this might play a role in disk evolution and planet formation. Also, I’m on the team building Ireland’s first satellite, called EIRSAT-1, and I work on communications/radio and product assurance. I also create our Twitter doodles!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I’m curious to a fault and I absolutely have to figure things out. That kid that always annoys their parents asking “Why? What does this do? How does that work?” – that’s me! I’ve always loved space and the stars, so when I realised it was something I could study at university and make into a career I jumped on the chance.

“I feel really proud and hopeful seeing more and more women choosing to study physics and I hope I can be some sort of inspiration or role model to future generations.”

Jessica Erkal

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?

Physics has pretty much always been male-dominated. Being a woman in science, I was only one of two women graduating from ~20 students in physics and astrophysics at Bachelors level. I feel really proud and hopeful seeing more and more women choosing to study physics and I hope I can be some sort of inspiration or role model to future generations.

On top of that I don’t look like a “typical” scientist (but is there really a typical scientist?). I love dyeing my hair crazy colours, it’s blue & green right now and it glows in the dark! And I love doing my makeup and nails.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I’m super interested in all things artsy. In fact, if I didn’t study physics and astrophysics, I probably would’ve studied fine art or graphic design. When I can, I help my dad run his tattoo studio in my home town at the weekends, and I’m almost fully trained to do tattoos, too. I tattooed my name on my dad when I was 11 and I’ve always thought they were really cool since then. I have 5 tattoos – my favourite is my little solar system on the back of my neck – but I definitely want more! I love travelling and food, whenever I get the chance to travel I take it. I love getting to try new things, see new sights and explore.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I didn’t think I could be a scientist until I was almost leaving school and I wish I knew about it sooner. I wish socioeconomic conditions didn’t hold back brilliant students from pursuing a career in STEM.

“When I can, I help my dad run his tattoo studio in my home town at the weekends, and I’m almost fully trained to do tattoos, too.”

Jessica Erkal

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?

Mostly my parents – They always encouraged me to chase after what I wanted, and to not give up after a bad grade or test. They always worked so hard to give me and my brother a better life than they had and I want to make them proud.

Since my Bachelors degree, the women in STEM who I’ve been so lucky to meet, study and work with have also been a source of inspiration for me.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I completed an ESA Academy Product Assurance training course in Belgium! This was a week long course that helped me understand how to make sure a space mission accomplishes all its objectives.


#WomenInSTEM, #FirstGenPhD, #FacesofSpace

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