The memoirs of the NASA astrophysicist who distrusted her own intelligence

The memoirs of the NASA astrophysicist who distrusted her own intelligence

Sarafina El-Badry Nance, of 30 years, is a Woman determined to break barriers. Passionate communicator of cosmology, the Egyptian-American received a Double Degree in Physics and Astronomy of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, and then completed a master’s degree in astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is finishing a doctorate.

Well known for her use of social media, particularly Twitter, where she talks about astrophysics and activism, Nance is also an advocate for women’s health and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Her role as an advocate for women’s health has a profound reason: He had to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. When he was 23 he learned that he had inherited the BRCA2 gene of her father, who is known to be a predictor of breast cancer.

Nance used a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to cover the cost of a double mastectomy and his social media platform to advocate for early and frequent screenings, as well as more outreach and access to preventive medicine.

After searching for the best local surgeons, Nance identified Anne Peled, a California reconstructive surgeon who also survived breast cancer. He had successful surgery in 2019 and is now publishing a book about his experiences to inspire more people to fight for their lives.

His recent book Starstruck, Published in June, it interweaves his personal story with explanations of what we know about the universe. “My hope is that the book will resonate with other young women, but also with anyone who has felt different or sought to belong. It is immensely challenging and painful to push forward educational systems and institutions created for straight white men. There is value in sharing my experience now. My book is also for anyone curious about the cosmos,” Nance said in a recent interview on The Guardian.

Nance related that her passion for astronomy began when she was very young: “I fell in love with the night sky when I was four or five years old. Listened StarDate (a U.S. national public radio program), attracted by the ethereal voice of its then-host. But ultimately, it was the way these glowing objects I was looking at contextualized everything. From a very young age I felt a lot of anxiety. I was sensitive to my parents’ dynamics (they argued a lot) and felt pressure to succeed in school. The vastness of the night sky gave me a sense of relief because I felt so small. That feeling has never left me and continues to act as a drag when I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

Astrophysics provides an overview of the study of the hard sciences by American women. “Women and minorities remain underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and perhaps not surprising given their experiences. They range from an astronomer visiting his science camp to telling a 10-year-old: ‘Astronomy is not for you‘, even a physics teacher who floods his class with jokes about sex workers and infidelity. Those kinds of comments, compounded over time, created an insidious belief that he didn’t belong and never would. It’s hard to tell the difference between your value and what someone else tells you you’re worth. And a lot happens unconsciously,” he said.

How solution, Nance argues that first of all, we need to stop thinking that women and people of color are not interested in the hard sciences. “We need more allies to support people throughout their career. I was fortunate to have some amazing mentors, who turned out to be white men. They used their privilege and power to help me access opportunities. A necessary ingredient in dismantling systems of oppression is increased privilege and power,” he added.

At age 26, Nance underwent a preventive double mastectomy and breast reconstruction in 2019. “My dad was diagnosed with metast prostate cancer.Very aggressive assic. Genetic testing revealed that Both he and I carried the genetic mutation. BRCA2, which is inherited and increases the risk of Many types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. I started the recommended follow-up protocol, which is to have a breast MRI every year, when I entered graduate school. In one of them, they detected a suspicious mass, which fortunately was a benign tumor,” he said.

And he completed with conviction: “I knew I didn’t want to have to spend my whole life with this anxiety. Through my preventive double mastectomy, I regained some peace of mind. While there is no guarantee that I will never get breast cancer, It has drastically reduced my odds from 87% to less than 5%. It’s such an individual decision — everyone has different risk factors, family background, and ways they want to mitigate their risk — but, to me, it was absolutely right and I don’t regret it.”

Last year, Nance conducted a Swimsuit photo shoot for Sports Illustrated and said that through a friend who knew what he had been through, applied to the magazine. “I did this for me, to re-establish a relationship with my body, not for anyone else.” Just as she wanted to break the image of the objectification of women by appearing in the photo shoot of the magazine, Nance refers to the Imposter syndrome, that feeling of non-belonging that arises particularly among women and minorities.

Who suffers from imposter syndrome, wonders if he is the best person for the place (professional or academic) and fears that others will realize that he is not the ideal person, but this is an individual perception.

My thinking about imposter syndrome has also evolved. I used to think I had generated it. But the reality is that It is my body that recognizes that I am in a place that was not created or maintained for someone like me.. And that’s not imaginary: our broader systems and institutions inform these feelings of not belonging. I will probably always live with imposter syndrome. But instead of Internal narratives of self-flagellation about not being smart enough or good enough, I’m trying to reverse things in the system,” said the astrophysicist who studies the explosions of massive single-star systems like the red giant Betelgeuse to try to calculate the current rate of expansion of the universe.

“We know that the universe is expanding, and this expansion is accelerating because of this invisible force that we call dark energy, but we don’t know exactly how fast. Type Ia supernovae, which have been used historically because they all explode with the same brightness, give different speeds. I’m using these other types of supernovae to try to resolve the tension. I am planning to graduate within the next year. I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m excited to combine my love of science, space and communication in unique ways.”

She concluded by giving advice to young women who want to pursue a career in astronomy: “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not cut out for something. No one can determine what you love or how you love it. Privilege systems will inevitably appear in different ways that will make it difficult, but as long as you feel safe and rewarding, it continues.”


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