He is the recipient of a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship
Gregory Mosby is a currently a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, working under the supervision of Drs. Marsha Wolf and Christy Tremonti. His area of expertise is extragalactic astronomy, and his dissertation is on the connection of quasars to star forming active galaxies in the local Universe. Greg is the recipient of the Beth Brown Prize and just recently won a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship, which he will take to NASA Goddard.
Charee Peters: Congratulation on winning the Beth Brown Prize! What was your reaction when you first learned that you won the Beth Brown Prize?
Greg Mosby: I won the Beth Brown Prize at my first joint National Society of Black and Hispanic Physicists conference in 2009. It was only my second conference, and I can remember my heart almost leaping out of my chest when I heard them call my name. I was intensely humbled, proud, and honored at the same time. The legacy of Dr. Beth Brown is one that resonates with me, coming from a family with strong matriarchs in STEM, and I strive to honor her memory through passion, kindness, and excellence.
Charee: You’re also about to finish up your PhD at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Do you have any big plans once you become Dr. Greg Mosby?
Greg: I just recently accepted a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship position at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, MD. I'll be working on some detailed characterization of the types of detectors that will fly on the James WebbSpace Telescope and the WFIRST mission. I'm excited to continue instrumentation work in a postdoc, but I'm also excited to collaborate with the other talented scientists at Goddard on new observational projects.
Charee: In your opinion, what qualities make your work so unique and compelling?
Greg: The work I've been involved in is unique because it touches many different disciplines. My work in detector instrumentation has been a mix of electrical engineering and solid state physics. And my work on analyzing quasar host galaxies has been a mix of observational astronomy, statistics, and machine learning. I have always enjoyed bringing in fresh and new perspectives for challenging problems. And I believe the most compelling work we can do as scientists requires this bold openness.
Charee: Please tell me more about yourself. What’s your story?
Greg: I grew up in Memphis, TN as a young child, raised by two working parents and a house full of siblings. I was always curious, and I can remember wanting to be an inventor or author growing up. The breadth of that childhood interest drove me. I satisfied my fascination with language by reading Spanish textbooks of one of my older sisters. And I got immense joy out of reading one of my older sister’s College Algebra books and teaching my younger sisters solving equations on the staircase. However, it wasn’t until grade or middle school science class that I realized being a scientist could be path for me. This was in no small part due to extremely dedicated and compassionate teachers and weekend/summer camp programs in the city targeting underrepresented students. At the push of one of my middle school teachers, I would end up attending one of the best high schools in the city. I fumbled a bit in the beginning, but I eventually thrived, becoming intensely interested in Chemistry and music. When it came to select colleges to apply for, I had formulated no real dream choices and had a very myopic perspective. It wasn’t until a consultation with my guidance counselor that I really appreciated what options I had. A couple of months later, I was accepted to Yale University. I was fortunate enough to brave enough to venture into a Physics class and I was hooked from then.
Charee: Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in astronomy?
Greg: As a child, I loved watching PBS and Discovery Channel, especially when they focused on science. The physics and astronomy related shows always fascinated me. it wasn’t until college that I realized I was able to do participate in the work of demystifying the universe.
Charee: What challenges or obstacles have you faced in pursing your interests in astronomy? How have you overcome them?
Greg: One of my biggest challenges in pursuing astronomy came in the middle of my college career. I started taking upper level physics and the classes were very challenging. It was a blow to the confidence I had in entry level physics. As I started collaborating more with other students and getting help from TAs and professors when I could, I felt a lot better. I think a lot of people start off thinking the path to being a great scientist is a solitary one. But one of the greatest skills and lessons I’ve learned is how and when to seek help.
Charee: People of color are severely under-represented in our field. What ideas do you have for making astronomy a more equitable and inclusive community? For dismantling racism and sexism in general?
Greg: One concept that would help dismantle racism, sexism, ablelism, and other forms of systemic marginalization in our community is for the burden of change to be shared. I think too often we rely on the marginalized to solve our problems. In reality, there needs to be community-wide effort. For this effort to happen, we have to have safe and open spaces in the field to take risks, make mistakes, and grow.
Charee: Finally, what advice would you give to other people interested in following your path?
Greg: The most important advice I’d give to students pursuing astronomy would be to be bold, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to bring your full self to your work. Scientists are people too, so be sure to tend to the things you need in order to be healthy (mentally and physically) on the path to becoming the person you want to be. There’s no one way to be an astronomer, and there shouldn’t be. A career or field that would stifle your ambitions and/or negatively affect your health does not deserve you. And you are worthy. Now go and be awesome!
*Charee Peters is a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She is also a member of the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA).