Tammy and Nicole’s Story: The Inspiration for Conversations for Good

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Nicole had expressed an interest in science when she was 15. Me and other members of our family took her to space-related science events. She didn’t take school very seriously in her freshman year of high school and would wait until the very last minute to do her homework, then struggle with it.

As Nicole’s family we realized that meeting someone whose work involved astronomy might help her explore her interest. After making some phone calls, staff at the Lick Observatory connected us with an astronomer. As she wasn’t local to our family’s home, we arranged to speak by phone. Nicole had her questions prepared and the astronomer was very patient about answering questions about her work.

Months after the call, Nicole began reaching out to astrophysics professors. As a result of the conversations she had with astronomers, Nicole had discovered that they spend a majority of their time writing grants to fund their research.

Nicole did some research and made a connection with an astrophysicist, Lance Dixon,a professor at Stanford University. He offered her an informational interview so that she could find out more about the specific work astrophysicists do. Nicole was very shy during the interview meetings, even asking me to wait outside during them.

After Nicole entered high school we continued to encourage her to do well in school with one difference: We no longer needed to pressure her to do her homework. Having found a purpose–pursuing something she was interested in–she saw the value of doing well in school and became self-driven. Around the middle of high school Nicole attended Cosmos, a prestigious science camp, where she found community not only with astrophysicists but with students who shared her interest. She was excited to learn how to code in Python to analyze images taken from a high-powered telescope.

Through her experiences Nicole learned that career exploration is just that: a process of discovery.

Tammy Chan, Founder and Executive Director of Conversations for Good and Nicole’s older sister