We recently sat down with Dr. Laura Danly, Astrophysicist, as part of our Born Seekers campaign. Laura uses her vast knowledge of our galaxy to introduce others to the wonders of science and inspire a greater connection to our planet.
Q: Thank you for joining us. Would you please explain what your role is as an Astrophysicist?
I've really had two careers. The first was at the Hubble's Space Telescope Science Institute, and I did research on how our galaxy evolved. Now I am more deeply engaged in public education. I'm the Curator of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
Q: What made you fall in love with science? Was there something that sparked your initial interest?
I think I was drawn into science when I came into the world! I was fascinated with astronomy from my earliest memories. I came in at a time when space exploration and space discovery was big, right at the end of the 1950's. And so it was everywhere, but it was really in me.
Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.
At the Observatory, I am more interested in people becoming inspired by the universe rather than teaching them the details. I want them to fall in love with the beauty and the immensity of it all, and I really want them to come away with an appreciation for how much we've learned through science.
Q: What does it take to become a successful scientist?
I think to be successful, you must be passionate about what you're studying. You have to be undyingly curious about the thing you're studying. You have to put in long hours, so you must really want to know the answer to the thing that you're studying. You don't want to take breaks and escape from it – you want to study what you're studying. So passion for the subject is first and foremost. I think also, to be successful, you have to have a deep belief in yourself, even if it's unconscious, even if you don't know.
Q: What challenges have you faced as a woman working in your field?
One of the challenges I faced as a woman in science was a lack of real mentorship. I went to a university that had an entirely male faculty, and I really didn't have good mentorship. I think even beyond that, you're just sort of not part of the club. You're not with them, and that makes it difficult. You're isolated. In science, collaboration is so important. If you're isolated and not part of the club, then it limits your opportunities.
Q: What advice would you give the next generation of female scientists?
My advice to young women comes from the venerable astronomer Vera Rubin, who told us when we were young, "Just muddle through."
Don't try to figure it out. Don't try to change it. Just muddle through. Keep going. Tune out the noise. Follow your dream.
Q: What do you think makes someone a Born Seeker? What qualities do you think are essential to becoming a Born Seeker?
I think the work that I do pushes boundaries by introducing people, who would otherwise not have a lot of involvement in science, to the power of science. They see what we have learned. They see what we can do with that knowledge, and I think it helps make a better citizenry. It's so wonderful that the Born Seekers campaign is supporting young women scientists, because with that support, they can conduct their research and follow their passion and prove the value of what they're doing.