Student Profile: Courtney Carter

July 12, 2019

Courtney headshot


Grinnell College | Grinnell, IA | 2021


Academic Major: Physics, Studio Art


Hometown: Houston, TX (via Atlanta, GA)


“I've had a pet snake named Bernoulli for the last two years."


Tell us…


What is the topic of your research this summer and what are your related goals?


“My summer research project is broadly focused on uncovering the assembly history of our galaxy. Specifically, on the origins of low-metal stars in the stellar halo. My related goals are learning a lot about galactic archeology, becoming a stronger public speaker and science communicator, and further developing my Python skills for data analysis.”


What area of astronomy fascinates you most or brings out the most passion in you?


“I'm very interested in cosmology and the development of larger structures in the universe. Physics and astronomy have been empowering for me because they provide a framework to understand complex cosmological events on timescales and distances so beyond any human being's experience. This deeply fascinates me, but also makes me passionate about exposing the most marginalized to the beauty of physics and astronomy as a means of intellectual empowerment.”


What do you aspire to do?


“I aspire to keep studying the universe! I love my research project and want to continue doing related research throughout my undergraduate, and eventually go to graduate school for astronomy. I aspire to contribute to the scientific community with my research, and through outreach and mentorship. I am not satisfied with the total number of African-American women PhDs in astronomy (fewer than 30 all time) and I want to work to address this underrepresentation.”


What significant lessons have you learned this summer so far?


“I have learned a lot about what time-management will look like in graduate school. It has been tricky to find a balance with classes, research, and self-care. I'm thankful to have been introduced to this challenge early, in an environment where I can make mistakes and have plenty of support. I have learned a lot about good practices in programming (in any language), what it takes to maintain a strong community, and working with large data sets in research.”


What parts of your experience with Banneker would you like to see modeled in the broader astronomy community?


“Here, there is such an emphasis on fostering a strong sense of community. As such, we are anti-competition and focus on bringing each other up through positive affirmation and acknowledgment. We are interested in learning as a community, which means collaboratively working with each other until everyone understands a concept. No one gets left behind, regardless of where they are starting. I wish the broader scientific community would similarly put a larger emphasis on collective rather than individual knowledge and success.


What would you say to a student who is considering applying to Banneker in the future? Can you recall the reasons you applied?

“I believe this program is truly unique. Here, people are prioritized over progress, and process is prioritized over product, as taken from our group norms. You will learn a lot about astronomy and do interesting research with a great advisor, but the emphasis will always be on having a great learning experience. If you want to be challenged intellectually, experience [a simulation of] the first 10 weeks of graduate school, engage with amazing people, and learn a lot about how to navigate the world as an underrepresented scientist, then this is the program and community for you!”