I was born in an inner city, north Long Beach, the eldest of five children to two Cambodian genocide refugees who had me as teenagers. This experience fundamentally shaped who I am and gave me the passion and drive to pursue my dreams of becoming a professor. I will never forget what my family experienced as educators in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. For example, my grandfather was sentenced to be executed in Siem Riep for being a teacher before courageously escaping to Thailand with his wife, my mom, and her older brother. Without their perseverance to get to the U.S., I likely would never have been born.
Pale Blue Dot is an image of the Earth captured by Voyager 1 from the depths of our solar system; it ignited my fire for astronomy and rewrote the course of my life. I was in college studying to be a preschool teacher the first time I laid eyes on this picture of our planet, completely engulfed and isolated by darkness. I could not imagine that everyone who has ever existed in all of human history existed in that tiny pinpoint on my screen. Carl Sagan drove the fact home that this lonely speck was where we had to carve out something beautiful for each and every one of its inhabitants. This visualization of how imperceptibly vast our cosmic environment is, how separated by distance the earth is from anything else, to me, made concrete the importance of pursuing science – specifically astrophysics – to meaningfully contribute to the wealth of shared knowledge. It was a scientific photograph that fostered my desire to understand the common origin of us all – the physics that guide all of us and shape the Universe as a whole. I had no inkling that science could speak to my heart in such a profound way. Ever since I felt the power with which astronomy moved me, I have endeavored to join the ranks of astrophysicists like Carl Sagan and Vera Rubin, torchbearers illuminating our meagre understanding of the deafening void.
Ultimately, my goal is to utilize my graduate education and acquired research acumen to become a faculty member at an R1 institution.
My first exposure to astronomy research came the summer following my junior year as an undergraduate. I had applied to the Cal-Bridge Summer program, which was designed to allow students from California State Universities and California community colleges to participate in undergraduate research projects for 10 weeks at a partner world-class research institution. I am deeply appreciative of the network and opportunities this program has given me. It's open to CSU students who are interested in pursuing a PhD in physics, astronomy, computer science, computer engineering or related fields. The program uses research-validated selection methods to identify students from underrepresented groups who display strong socioemotional competencies along with academic potential and provides them support to matriculate to a PhD program at a UC campus. If this speaks to you and you're interested to learn more, please check out their page or reach out to me directly - I would love to chat!
Through CAMPARE, I attended an REU program at the University of Wyoming, where my cohort of 7 other students and I worked on characterizing supermassive binary black hole systems. Our results led to my first co-authored publication in MNRAS. You can read more about this work on my Research page. I left Wyoming with a greater appreciation for the work that goes into being a practicing astronomer, confident that I had the skills, curiosity, and follow-through to become one in my own right.
Cal-Bridge Summer scholars, Mentors, and Program Staff at the 2019 Peer Mentoring Dinner in Pomona, California.
In the fall of my senior year, I started to shop around for graduate programs. One Skype call with Prof. Sarah Loebman, a new professor at UC Merced who was set to begin the year I graduated, sparked a connection that has become immeasurably invaluable to me. We discussed what a day in the life looked like for her as a simulator who worked with Big Data. She expressed that her research interests were in galactic archaeology and the chemo-dynamic evolution of stars in the Milky Way’s disk. She encouraged me to find an advisor who supported my personal and professional aspirations. Both her research and the opportunity to be among the first graduate students in astrophysics at UC Merced inspired me to apply to graduate school there. Six months later I began working for her, generating plots to identify moving groups of corotating stars in the FIRE cosmological simulations, a collaboration in which Prof. Loebman is a PI. I am so grateful to have found a mentor who supports her students so fully in doing research that both excites and motivates them to change the world. This is my dream job.
End-of-year event with the entire physics department and wonderful staff! My favorite people ever.