Unique Scientist: Renée Spiewak

Time to meet Renée Spiewak (She/her)! Renée is an astrophysicist from the USA currently at Swinburne University studying pulsars in the galaxy with radio telescopes in Australia!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am an astrophysicist studying pulsars in the galaxy with radio telescopes like MeerKAT. I’m trying to find a way to estimate the intrinsic brightness of pulsars so that we can count them and understand the population. I work with big collaborations to use pulsars to search for long-wavelength gravitational waves. I’m also very passionate about science communication and reaching under-privileged communities, no matter the definition (gender, ethnicity, economic status, etc.).

What made you want to become a scientist?
After I found out that being an astronomer was a possible career, it was obvious that I would pursue it. I love challenges, and physics was the most challenging (but also interesting) subject for me. Combining it with my love of astronomy, learning about the universe beyond the familiar, was ideal. I love the aesthetic, but also the perspective that astronomy gives.

“After I found out that being an astronomer was a possible career, it was obvious that I would pursue it.”

Renée Spiewak

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am unique because of my background. I was raised in a religious family that was below the poverty line for most of my childhood, in a rural community where education was limited. I pushed those boundaries by attending an online high school (which was new at the time) and became a first-generation college student, and am now the first person in my extended family to pursue a post-graduate degree. Being an astrophysicist that believes in a God is also rather uncommon.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I sail on a replica 1800s schooner for historical outreach-y purposes. It’s a very authentic replica (with few modern amenities), so it pulls me away from technology and into a simpler space.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would love for people to stop gate-keeping, scaring away people who are interested but not aware of all of the loops to jump through. We need to pull some of the science outreach emphasis away from “getting people interested” and towards “telling people how they can get involved”. And universities need to do better with admissions.

“Being an astrophysicist that believes in a God is also rather uncommon.”

Renée Spiewak

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I’ve certainly been helped and pushed along my path to where I am now, by my amazing high school and college Physics teachers and my family, and by random people who told me I couldn’t make it (challenge accepted), but I try to keep my plan for my life focused on what I want, rather than emulating someone else. Hearing other peoples’ stories is encouraging, but I’m walking my own path.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I’m writing a public talk to explain stellar evolution. It’s not done yet, but I’ve made a lot of progress this week, and it’s looking pretty fun! Oh, and I participated in filming a “what is astrophysics” explainer, so that’ll be out soon!


#WomenInSTEM, #FirstGenSTEM, #RuralSTEMM

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