November 6, 2020
Andy Heard was born in Devon, England. He earned his undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences from the University of Oxford before coming to University of Chicago five years ago to pursue a PhD in geophysical sciences. He studies geochemistry and uses precise measurements of iron isotope ratios in sedimentary rocks to learn about the history of oxygen on the ancient Earth. We interviewed him via email about his experiences at UChicago.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
Lots of reasons! The scientific opportunities, the scientific profile and caliber of my advisor, the great history of geochemistry at UChicago. It helps that the architecture makes me feel like I’m still at Oxford!
What is something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.
I’m excited about my research on sedimentary pyrite (fool’s gold) from rocks predating the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere, where I’ve been able pull out more information about the interactions of iron, sulfur, and oxygen in Earth’s oceans than earlier studies.
What do you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I love to read sci-fi novels. My current favorites are the Terra Ignota series, by UChicago’s own Professor Ada Palmer.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I want to stay in academia, and continue to research what fascinates me—the chemical evolution of planetary surfaces. I’m in the process of writing postdoc applications.
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
The overall environment that encourages inquisitiveness and scientific debate has definitely made me better as a researcher. I was also lucky enough to be given an Eckhart scholarship by the PSD, which has helped me fund some independent research travel.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
For grad school, it’s an academic environment that rewards inquisitiveness. Faculty are always willing to chat about science and encourage independent work—but often you need to start the conversation! As important as it is to learn about UChicago as a whole, if you are considering UChicago for grad school, you should learn everything you can about potential advisors, and contact them early to see if you’ll be a good academic fit.
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
As a white man in academia, the majority of my colleagues look like me, and that’s a big problem because that isn’t what the population as a whole looks like. In particular, geoscience is one of the least diverse scientific fields, and that is something I wasn’t specifically aware of until I came to graduate school and got exposure to large numbers of scientists in my field. These kinds of entrenched problems require members of privileged groups (like myself) to be allies to underrepresented groups, and wherever the opportunity arrives, I think it’s really important to positively reinforce people’s efforts to enter academia, where imposter syndrome can be a really serious problem.