November 25, 2022
Madison Brady was born in a rural town in Northeastern Ohio, an hour’s drive out of Cleveland. She lived there until she attended Caltech in Pasadena, CA, for undergrad, earning a BS in astrophysics. This quarter she is starting her third year as a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. She is currently studying exoplanets, which are planets that aren’t in our solar system. Most of her work is observational, using telescopes and data analysis. She is primarily interested in studying rocky planets around very small nearby stars (M dwarfs), which provide us with key information on the formation, composition, and evolution of planets like Earth. We spoke to her about her experiences below.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
I did several summer research projects involving exoplanets during my undergrad years. I knew that I liked the field but didn’t have any specific project in mind that I wanted to pursue going into graduate school. I wanted to make sure that I attended a school with many professors with interesting exoplanet-adjacent work so that I’d have plenty of options to choose from when it came to both finding a project that I would really enjoy and a professor with whom I would work well. Between the astronomers and the geologists, there’s a large number of professors at the University of Chicago with work spanning several different sub-fields (exoplanet observations, interior modeling, dynamical simulations, solar system sciences). Even now that I’ve mostly settled into one project, it’s very helpful to have connections with professors doing slightly adjacent work, just in case I have any questions.
What is something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago?
I’m very proud of the work I’m currently doing with MAROON-X, an instrument that was designed and built by Jacob Bean’s group before I started attending UChicago. MAROON-X is an extremely stable and precise instrument that allows us to detect the gravitational pull of small rocky exoplanets on their host stars, allowing us to measure their masses very precisely. I have been involved with the project (alongside Andreas Seifahrt, David Kasper, and Rafael Luque) since I came here a few years ago. I have stayed up many nights to perform remote observations and spent many hours poring over the resulting data. The project has gotten me involved with other groups and it’s rewarding to help teams get the data they need to publish very exciting science.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I really like writing fiction, though I am not necessarily the best at finishing my projects. I usually write in some mix of fantasy and horror. I have yet to write a science fiction story about people visiting exoplanets or whatnot. I also like to draw and play tabletop role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons is the most popular touchstone, but I also enjoy a host of other systems).
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I’m planning on continuing to pursue academia outside of UChicago, though at this relatively early stage I’m open to seeing where my work takes me.
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
I’ve benefited from the NSF GRFP (National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program), which has fully funded my work these first three years of my research.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I have had abundant opportunities to get involved in exciting research and to receive useful insight and advice from professors. I’ve also found the student body to be very welcoming, and there are lots of things to do in the city.
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
Having spent most of my life in a small, rural, predominantly white community in the Midwest, my experiences in college have opened my eyes to how important it is to have a diverse array of cultures and perspectives available when trying to solve problems. I know firsthand how productive it is to challenge your preconceived notions about how the world is and how it should be, and it has been extremely rewarding to work with the more diverse communities from Caltech (and now UChicago).
Through some of my outreach in science competitions, I’ve seen the vast social and economic disparities that ravage a lot of rural and urban communities, and how difficult it can be for people to fight through them to achieve an education like the one I’ve been lucky enough to have. I’m invested in doing my part to uplift these communities while respecting their unique viewpoints.