Jen Locke is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. She works on variable stars, specifically quasars, RR Lyrae, Cepheids, and eclipsing binaries. She is currently writing a pipeline to filter and sort DES data into these types of variable stars. The goal of the project is to put algorithms in place so scientists in the future can easily find these different variable stars, which are used to study black hole growth, dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way, and other cosmological events. She also wrote this Darchive last year.
We asked Jen a few questions. Here’s what she had to say:
What is your favorite part of being a scientist?
My favorite part about being a scientist is the feeling of successfully debugging code. When doing research you can get stuck on a problem for a long time, and the only person who can solve it is you. So finally getting the results you want can be very satisfying. I also love talking about my research. Whether I’m giving a talk about my research to a couple hundred astrophysicists or explaining what I do to a child, I always enjoy it in different ways.
When did you know you wanted to be a scientist?
I’ve always been interested in astronomy from when I was a kid, reading picture books about the Solar System. As I got older, I started reading astronomy books by astrophysicists for adults interested in the cosmos. I loved it so much I knew I wanted to continue learning about astronomy and do it for a living.
Do you have any hobbies or take part in sports?
Yes! I’m very heavily involved in theatre at Penn with acting, producing, makeup design, painting sets, you name it. I also am co-president of the Society of Physics Students at Penn and volunteer with a non-profit on campus that raises dogs training to be service animals for people with disabilities.
Any advice for aspiring scientists?
It can be really hard for female physicists, physicists of color, LGBTQ+ physicists and other underrepresented minorities. Sometimes you can be put in very difficult situations by your physics peers because of their ignorance. If you ever feel like one of your peers treated you unfairly for any reason, there are always people that you can reach out to for help, and don’t ever let people tell you you can’t achieve your goals.