Meet astronomy & astrophysics student, Maya Fishbach

August 17, 2020

Maya Fishbach

Maya Fishbach was born in Tel Aviv, Israel but has called Chicago home since she was nine years old. She earned a BS in math and physics at Yale University before returning to pursue her PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. She defended her thesis in May, 2020 and will be a NASA Hubble Fellowship Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University in the fall. We interviewed her via email about her experiences at UChicago.

What have you been studying or researching as part of your program?

I use gravitational waves to learn about black holes and neutron stars. While traditional telescopes allow us to see the light that is emitted from objects in our universe, gravitational-wave detectors like LIGO allow us to “hear” events, such as two black holes crashing into each other billions of light years away.

Why did you choose the University of Chicago?

I’m lucky to have grown up belonging to the University of Chicago community, since my mom, Ayelet Fishbach, is a professor at Booth and I attended the Lab schools from grades four through 12. Growing up here, I always dreamed of doing research and becoming a scientist like my mom and the other professors I admired. Completing my PhD at the University of Chicago feels like the perfect culmination of that childhood dream. Additionally, my undergraduate research mentors, Professor Daisuke Nagai and Dr. Erwin Lau, both got their PhDs at the University of Chicago and highly recommended the Astronomy PhD program. 

Describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.

I am proud of all of the research that went into my PhD, which I successfully defended earlier this summer. At the beginning of my PhD program, I was overwhelmed with all of the available research opportunities and I couldn’t decide what topic to focus on for my entire first year – I don’t think I could have predicted that a few years later I would end up as an expert in gravitational-wave astronomy! 

What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?

I love to bake; lately I’ve been really into baking pretzels, but I also make a lot of desserts. My eight-year-old brother Tommy refers to me as the “sweets” sister (our sister Shira is more into savory cooking). I also enjoy learning new languages; currently I’m learning Chinese on the Duolingo app.

What are your plans post-UChicago?

I will be starting as a NASA Hubble Fellowship Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University this fall. I plan to continue doing research in gravitational-wave astronomy.

What support have you received at the UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?

I am very grateful for the support of my PhD advisor, Daniel Holz, who goes out of his way to connect me to potential collaborators, conferences and speaking opportunities, in addition to caring for my academic and emotional wellbeing. 

If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?

There are many exciting academic opportunities at UChicago, but I would encourage them to also participate in the University community and Hyde Park community. I am grateful to have met so many brilliant scholars here, often students and postdocs, who care so much for their communities in addition to their academics. 

How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?

As a math and physics student in high school and college, I became accustomed to the daily challenges of navigating male-dominated spaces as a junior woman. Being one of few women in my field continues to be a struggle, but I am also extremely fortunate in my circumstances and my opportunities. Thanks in large part to outreach and activism by my peers at UChicago, I work to recognize my privilege as a white, cisgendered, upper middle class, American graduate student at a top astronomy department, and to actively listen to and empathize with people with different experiences. Knowing my privilege and my power has shaped my efforts to make the communities I belong to more inclusive and equitable for all.

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