Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, PhD: A day in the life of an astrophysicist

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is the 63rd black woman in American history with a physics Ph.D.

She is a Research Associate at the University of Washington Department of Physics/Dark Universe Science Center. This is a day in the life of an astrophysicist.

What currently keeps you busy? Axions and saving marginalized minority physicists from bad scientific community traditions.

Today I woke up at 5:50 am. I probably wouldn’t keep this schedule if it wasn’t necessary for my husband’s job! But I actually have been unexpectedly enjoying the early days since we started.

The first thing I did was… My very first thought besides “I wonder if it is 6 yet” was “I wonder how that relaxion calculation works out. I need to get more into that today.” The relaxion is an interesting new idea in particle physics that relates to the hypothesized dark matter particle I spend a lot of time on, the axion.

My morning ritual includes... I listen to and sometimes sing along with the Reconstructionist Jewish Shacharit (morning) prayer service. Then I turn on my favorite Korean radio station, MBC4U. Nothing is complete until I drink 12-15 ounces of Golden Yunnan tea with a healthy dollop of whole milk in it. My husband makes it for me because it tastes better when he does it. Also, he experimented and figured out how much tea he can put in the pot without me getting sick from the caffeine.

I started working at 7 am. While watching election returns last night, I had saved some journal articles in Evernote relating to the question I woke up thinking about this morning, so I opened up Evernote to look at them. Then I realized I wanted to hunt for some more.

My biggest challenge was… I feel a little anxious about sorting this problem out, even though I think it should be easy. I was told a lot early on that I was not smart enough to be a theoretical physicist, and I am always fighting with that messaging, which I was hardwired with. My adviser here at Washington reminded me about the importance of a flexible intelligence mindset yesterday, so I am responding to the challenge by reminding myself of that!

I celebrated my friend Imani Uzuri, who is an amazing singer, is doing a surprise performance with my friend Vijay Iyer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art this morning! I am pretty stoked for them and very jealous of everyone who gets to hear it.

What I love most about my work is the idea that there is an intimate connection between how the universe works and mathematics is still fascinating to me, 24 years after I first learned about what theoretical cosmologists do.

My favorite part of the day was when I talked Chinese and Taiwanese science politics with a close friend who is an expert on politics in the region.

Least favorite… Getting worrisome news about how one of my best friends’ pregnancy is going. It looks like it will be okay, but I was very anxious for a while.

I am so glad that I get to listen to music while I work. I’ve been listening to Korean pop artists since high school, and my favorite group -- and this is a total coincidence -- is BIGBANG, so I listen to them a lot.

Something that surprised me was… I seem to have gotten the attention of more critical theory people with one of my blog entries. This happens sometimes, and I’m always surprised when they seem into what I’m writing. I probably shouldn’t be.

I want to recognize… I would be so lost on a regular basis without Professor Meredith Schweig, one of my best friends and a brilliant ethnomusicologist who understands the challenges of being an academic.

How do you commute? I take a bus that runs a few blocks from my apartment straight to the Physics-Astronomy building.

My favorite technology that I used today is my iPad Pro, although I just ordered a Raspberry Pi 3, and I’m pretty excited about it!

Did you meditate? Did you exercise? When I’m in Boston, I’m going for a Pilates lesson with my teacher trainer Pam Garcia at Pure Pilates, so . . . I thought about using my wunda chair to be a little more prepared, but I didn’t get around to it – hahaha!

One strategy I use to make my time more effective is… to do lists are key!!!!!

I am passionate about creating a better world for children to grow up in.

I can’t live without my closest friends. I end up having an extended text chat with at least one of them – if not a mega group text – every day. These are the kind of people I can call crying in the middle of the day if I need to. We really share in each other’s triumphs and challenges, and I cherish that bond.

I went to sleep at – oh, I think I went to couch as my husband likes to call it around 9 pm.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to flying home to Boston tomorrow night to spend the weekend there. I’m excited about seeing my house and going to karaoke and dinner on Saturday with my crew there. I’m also really excited to do a lesson with my Pilates teacher trainer on Monday before I fly back to Seattle.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a theoretical astro|physicist at the University of Washington. She is a gender nonconforming female and one of a very few Black/African diaspora theoretical physicists. She is known for her passionate activism against discrimination and for her favorite dark matter candidate, the axion. What she does matters because there are few things more human than curiosity about the way the universe works.

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