Student Profile: Talia Saeid

August 7, 2019



University of Pennsylvania | Philadelphia, PA | 2021


Academic Major: Physics (Astrophysics), Philosophy


Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

“I climbed the Pyramids of Giza when I was 5 years old.”

Tell us…


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


"This summer, I’m working with Matthew Payne to use TESS full frame images to identify rapidly moving objects (most of which will be asteroids and perhaps Kuiper Belt Objects). I hope to become more familiar with Python in astronomy research and using Python to create animations. In addition, I aim to be able to explain to a wide audience, not just to other astronomers, the TESS mission and how I’m using it in ways it wasn’t intended. The use of jargon in astronomy contributes to its inaccessibility, so I hope to learn how to describe what I’m working on to anyone so they’ll be able to understand it."


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


"Initially, I was most interested in cosmology because there is still so much in the field we don’t understand, but I’m still exploring different areas to find what truly intrigues me. In general though, all of astronomy fascinates me because it sparks a curiosity for exploring what ultimately helps understand everything around us, yet is so far out of reach."


What do you aspire to do?

"My life passion is to become an astronaut. My goal has been to become an academic researcher since I realized I wanted to study astronomy. But as I study more, space travel has become more desirable. No matter what I pursue, I will be involved in human rights and social justice. I hope to find ways to tie both to astronomy in order to further society in ways beyond just discoveries and intellectual developments. However, my greatest aspiration, to quote the Queen [Beyoncé] herself, is 'to be happy.'"

What significant lessons have you learned this summer so far?

"I have learned so far is that there isn’t a single face of astronomy; there are many. Regardless of the path a person has taken in life, there is potential to become an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and the like. I am learning that my experiences are assets that will boost my chances of success in this field, despite what I may be dealing with or how the world sees me. In other words, who I am and what I deal with do not disqualify me from being an astrophysicist. Similarly, making mistakes doesn’t discredit my accomplishments and my competence as a researcher. The “group agreements” we use to guide our discussions remind me that mistakes represent the potential for growth and show that we remain students throughout both our lives and careers."


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


"I would like to see Banneker’s emphasis on community become similarly embraced in the field. By choosing to learn together, there is potential to share goals in the hopes of increasing our understanding of the Universe. When students, astronomers, and others see themselves as competing instead of cooperating, collaboration becomes stunted and a sense of cohesion is lost. Another “group agreement” from our discussions emphasizes that we are not competitors, but teammates, and that  we don’t learn something until we all do. I believe applying this in the broader astronomy community will optimize our research efforts and bring the community closer together. In addition to an emphasis on community, I would also like to see diversity promoted as a natural outcome of genuine efforts to fully welcome traditionally underrepresented groups into the astronomy rather than as an engineered outcome that gives merely the impression of diversity [also known as tokenism]. I think this 'natural diversity' (for lack of a better phrase) is necessary and, again, will strengthen the community of people in astronomy and boost the field’s potential."


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


"Just do it. Without hesitation. I applied to Banneker because it works to address two things I care about deeply: astronomy and social justice. I knew I had to apply when I discovered that this program incorporates both of these while simultaneously fostering a community for people who look like me and are underrepresented in the greater astronomy community. It had everything I thought I needed in a program and even exceeded my expectations. I needed Banneker more than I thought I did. So again, apply!"