Alumni Profile: Meg Foster
B.S. Physics and Astrophysics, 2019
Meg Foster is a recent graduate of the School. She entered Graduate school in the Fall of 2019 at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, as part of their Ph.D. program. Foster was fresh from a successful senior year in which she won the Robert K. Anderson scholarship and completed a Student Project for Amity among Nations (SPAN) trip to Russia. Her SPAN thesis “Soviet Space Race Propaganda: The Role of Women in Space and Science” had received praise, and she gave lectures about her experiences and findings in that thesis. She had been able to interview many women who were part of the Soviet space program and was able to share their struggles to achieve equality in Russia.
Halfway through the 2019-2020 year, a global pandemic destroyed her carefully laid plans. “Hawaii is a small place and the economy is so dependent on tourism,” Foster says. When that part of the economy ground to a halt in March 2020, in the midst of the busy season, Foster and her boyfriend, whose job was sacrificed in the crunch, found life in Hawaii to be too expensive to be sustainable. Thanks to distance learning, they were able to relocate closer to home, in Colorado, which is where her parents live. Foster was continuing to attend classes and fulfill her teaching assistant duties without being on site. She says the time change is a challenge but she has managed with it so far.
Foster says the favorite part of graduate school is working as a teaching assistant. “Working with students gave me a confidence boost. The idea of teaching a sophomore lab four semesters after I took the lab, when I was in their shoes not that long before. I was so satisfied by that.” Foster is a teaching assistant for three Intro to Physics sections. She says the problems they are using in the course are modeled after problems created by Professor Ken Heller for the University of Minnesota Physics Education program.
She has found that part of her experience so rewarding that she has decided to change her research focus to include physics education, which will mean changing schools. "I am looking at the University of Kansas, talking to (former classmate) Jennifer Delgado who is now at Kansas. They have a physics education research program.” She is also considering the University of Colorado at Boulder, which is near her hometown of Littleton, Colorado. “It wasn’t common to switch schools, but it’s happening more now with COVID. I had only been in Hawaii for a year and hadn’t committed to an advisor or research topic.”
When asked to give advice to students just starting out she says, “remote living in Colorado was a wake up call for me. Your expectations instantly change when you become a grad student. I was an APS Bridge Student in Hawaii, (American Physical Society program to increase the number of physics Ph.Ds awarded to underrepresented minority students) and wished they would have had more support. Going into grad school, I wish I would have found out in greater detail who was doing what research. As a senior looking at schools, I didn’t visit ahead of time. I had heard that advice, and now I wish things had been different. You have to be proactive and adjust. And hold yourself accountable.”
She goes on to warn, “make sure you exhaust all the options besides grad schools. Because of how much I like teaching, I’m changing my direction and it worked out o.k.. Make sure you're not falling into academia. I’m still going into academia because I love it.”