The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund: Stephanie Merritt
Sometimes it helps to take your mind away from the larger goal and focus on getting through the next week. People are going to tell you that you can’t do this and you are going to be one of those
people telling yourself that you can’t do this and you need to ignore all of those voices and just focus on taking the next step. I’m Stephanie, I’m a PhD student in astronomy studying exoplanet atmospheres at Queen’s University Belfast. I’m currently working on the detection of a particular molecule in the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter. A hot Jupiter being an exoplanet which is very large and very close to its parent star. I can’t remember ever not being interested in space. I remember in infant school getting extremely excited over a project: we had to make planets out of
papier-mache it blew my mind. I can still remember exactly how I felt and finally started to comprehend exactly how big the universe was and how small it made me feel and that’s a feeling that’s never really left me. Although nothing was ever explicit there was very much an atmosphere in my high school especially that science was for boys and girls were good at English and it just never occurred to me that I could be a scientist, that never really struck me as
a thing that I could aspire to be. That’s kind of fed into my imposter syndrome as well. I dropped out of school at 15 with only a handful of GCSEs and after that I just went into work I guess. I worked in call centers a lot, I’ve done waitressing I’ve worked in shops and eventually I was sitting in one call center in particular and I thought I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this for the rest of my life. And I found an access course at my local
Technical College that was free. I was 23 when I went back into education. I think 22 when I started realizing that I could. I’m from a very working-class background. I’m the first person in my entire extended family to go to university. I think it’s been a tremendous benefit to me to have had so much work experience before going back into education. My work ethic has already been shaped by all of the work that I’ve already done and I think diversity in students is
tremendously important. I think that when you have a real diverse team of researchers, of PhD students and you have all of these different viewpoints with all of these people with different experiences it can only improve science. There are a lot of astronomers right now who are working on changing academic environment to make it more friendly to women: women with families, people with
disabilities, people from diverse backgrounds so the change will be slow but I do have faith that slowly academia will change thanks to the efforts of so many brilliant people.