Read below to hear more about graduate life at the UW-Madison Astronomy Department as told by Julie Davis!

How did you feel your experience at UW-Astronomy was? How would you describe it?

I had a very good experience getting my PhD at UW. My advisors, Eric Wilcots and Christy Tremonti, were both incredible mentors that I was fortunate to get to work with. They were incredibly supportive and cared about me as a person, not just a researcher. This was a constant theme in the department, where I felt a strong sense of community and genuine support from my fellow grad students. The department offered more opportunities that I could have possibly capitalized on during my time there in terms of education, research, and outreach. I was very lucky to have been able to travel quite a bit to collaborate on and present my research, including visiting SALT in South Africa. I also appreciated the many opportunities I had to participate in outreach, which I enjoyed immensely.

What kind of research did you do here?

I ended up getting to do a wide range of observational extragalactic science during my PhD. Working with Eric Wilcots, I looked at how galaxies acquire their fuel for star formation by investigating their neutral hydrogen reservoirs for signs of accretion. I was a member of two big 21-cm radio surveys on the VLA and the brand-new MeerKAT telescope. I also used both WIYN and SALT to gather optical spectra of galaxies in the surveys. With Christy Tremonti, I explored the properties of galactic winds and how they scale with their host galaxies for a sample with extremely fast outflows. For both projects I worked with amazing collaborators, including alumni of the UW astronomy program.

What are you doing now?

I’m currently the John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow at the American Astronomical Society. My job is advocating for astronomy at the national level, which involves writing and speaking to congress, federal agencies, and astronomers across the country. My biggest project right now is working with satellite companies like SpaceX to mitigate their satellites’ effects on our observatories.

How did UW Astronomy help get you to where you are now?

UW Astronomy helped me get here by granting me the freedom to pursue interests that weren’t always related to my research pursuits. My advisors were very supportive of me pursuing opportunities to prepare for a career in science policy. I was fortunate that UW offers a PhD minor in science communication, and that I was able to join the Catalysts for Science Policy group on campus where I gained valuable experience writing science policy memos for the Wisconsin State Legislature.

How was the sense of community in our department?

The community in the astronomy department was absolutely the thing that brought me to Madison. I chose UW Astronomy because the grad student community was vibrant, diverse, and supportive. I made very close friends during my time in the department and spent countless hours with many of the grads outside of work. I had incredibly friendly relationships with my advisors and with many of the postdocs, researchers, and faculty that I will remember fondly.

What did you enjoy about campus? What did you enjoy about Madison itself?

I came to Madison knowing very little about Wisconsin, but fell deeply in love with the city and the state. Madison is the perfect size, and I was able to develop a real sense of community and rooted-ness during my time there. I love all the natural areas to explore on campus and off, as well as the uniqueness of living between the lakes. The cultural offerings of the city punch well above its weight, so there are always things to do and new experiences to have. Getting to explore the whole state via the Universe in the Park program was also an incredible experience. There are truly beautiful places in Wisconsin that most people don’t seem to know about.