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Lindsay Bartolone '99, Educator at the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum

Astrophysics

Why I chose astrophysics

I applied to Princeton and was accepted as an engineering student. I expected engineers to work collaboratively to solve real-world problems, and these ideas appealed to me. While I may have found this to be true, had I continued in the engineering school, at the end of my freshman year I was required to pick a type of engineering. Unfortunately, none of the descriptions of each discipline attracted me. I didn't want to study dirt, chemicals, pipes, airplanes, or computers. I decided that I would tough it out and choose a major whose subject matter really inspired me -- astrophysics. Sure, I was afraid of the high-level physics classes I would need to pass as well as possibly giving up ''real-world'' problems for ''theoretical'' ones. My fears turned out to be justified. The physics courses were tough and unrelated to my real-world experience, but at least the astrophysics classes were interesting.

Finding my focus

After a summer working at Johns Hopkins University and discussing possible future career paths with a Women in Astrophysics group, I decided that a potential eight years in graduate school and moves across the country to the one or two open positions were not for me. So I started Princeton's teacher preparation program. Once I became involved in the education courses, I realized that even in my engineering school applications, what I had been searching for was teaching.

I enjoyed fully understanding a problem or a concept and explaining it to others, working collaboratively to better understand a concept, and explaining a solution using words or mathematics. In my junior year I took a seminar on ''Gender and Science,'' and for a paper, I investigated teaching strategies that help ''different'' kinds of students to learn better. I discovered the wide range of possibilities for teaching physics beyond the traditional lecture, which had become the only type of class I was taking in physics and astrophysics. This set me on the path for my career. I began working with Professor David Spergel on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (a NASA satellite mission), not on the science itself, but on an educational Web site. The Web site was designed for teachers to help them address new national standards about the origin and evolution of the universe. I found that my educational training helped me to better explain concepts as broad as the age and shape of the universe.

I have just completed my fourth year at the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum. I work in the education department and concentrate on teachers' professional development. I am also part of a team that will develop the education program for a potential NASA mission called Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX).

Value of academic choices

Being part of a small department had advantages for me. Since I wasn't following the typical path of going on to graduate education in astrophysics, and since I had a strong educational focus, I was able to work with my adviser to create a plan of study that met requirements for state teaching certification, the teacher preparation requirements, as well as the astrophysics department requirements. Also, since I was able to work on such a high-profile project, I began building contacts in my field beginning in my junior year. Further, since we were such a small department (just two graduated my year), we weren't competitive; we couldn't be -- we needed each other to make it through each course.

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