Cheyenne Polius

she/her/hers

Where you can find her:

  • Twitter: @cheyennePolius
  • Instagram: @cheyenne.polius

Education: Dual Honours Integrated Masters in Physics and Astrophysics at The University of Sheffield in the UK, July 2020 (It means I did a Bachelors and Masters in one continuous degree rather than 2 separate degrees.)

Current job title: Client Solutions Associate – a graduate development program at a Finance Technology company leading to a full time role as a Financial Consultant.

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

Science documentaries were the main thing that sparked my interest in science while I was growing up and I vividly remember Space documentaries being my favourite. At 15, I realised that Astrophysics was the branch of science used to explain all the mysteries in the documentaries I loved. I decided right then that this was the field I wanted to pursue a career in.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

My secondary school Physics teacher was my biggest inspiration. Aside from being a fantastic teacher, she was my role model around the time I decided I wanted to pursue Astrophysics. Having a Black, female Physics teacher was inspiring because I never questioned if my gender or the colour of my skin would hinder my progress toward my goal of becoming an astrophysicist. Her encouragement and support during those years  also gave me the confidence I needed to stick with my decision.

Once I made it to university, two lecturers, Dr Katherine Inskip and Professor Simon Goodwin, were pivotal in helping discover my love for Science Communication. Seeing the two of them as professionals in Astrophysics while still maintaining their passion and commitment to Science Communication made me feel like I could do it too and their guidance throughout my degree has really helped shape my success as a Science Communicator.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

In my first year, I felt like I wasn’t good enough or committed enough to be in the Astrophysics field because a lot of my peers talked about their fascination with things like amateur telescopes and popular Sci-Fi movies like Star Wars. For me, I was always fascinated with how the universe worked but I don’t remember ever wanting a telescope or being excited when Sci-Fi movies came on. This made me question whether my degree was right for me. I expressed this concern to my personal tutor and he told me that there were 2 kinds of astrophysicists: those that like to look up at the sky and those who just want to learn more about the science of the objects in the sky. He explained that there were theoretical astrophysicists who spent their time on the theory rather than observing through a telescope, which I didn’t know at the time. That was all the reassurance I needed to confirm that there was a place for people like me in the field and that I didn’t have to be like everyone else to be successful in Astrophysics. By the end of my first year, I was enjoying my degree so much that no one could convince me that astrophysics wasn’t for me! As I met more people during the rest of my degree, I realised that there were so many others like me who were much more interested in theoretical astrophysics than observational astrophysics.

There have been many times that I did not feel smart enough to be an astrophysicist because I was not receiving the best grades in some classes. But one of my lecturers said that no one is going to be good at every single topic in their field. There will be some topics you love, some topics you don’t like as much and some that might just take a bit more time and effort for you to grasp. It doesn’t make you a bad scientist, it just makes you human!

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

The first twist for me was discovering my passion for Science Communication. Up until the 3rd year of my degree, my plan was to go from my Masters to a PhD and then into research. But when I had to choose a Bachelor’s project, the one that excited me the most was Physics Education and Outreach. Once I started doing the work for this project in my 3rd year, it was clear to me that the only thing I loved more than astrophysics was telling people all about astrophysics! 

From then on, I centered my career goals on Science Communication and Outreach rather than research. However, I hit a few bumps along the way. So I got to the end of my Masters not really knowing what my next step was since I didn’t plan on doing an Astrophysics PhD anymore. That led to the second surprise – my first graduate job being in the Finance Technology industry. I knew that I had a lot of options in the job market because of the transferable skills I got from my degree but Finance just wasn’t on my radar. I applied for this job because it focused more on software and problem solving than Finance theory so I knew I could make good use of my analytical skills. Happy to report that it’s been super interesting so far! 

The next surprise was realising my first career plan is actually what I wanted to stick to. For my whole final year at university, I was convinced that I didn’t want to do a PhD and that I was going to find a job until I figured out how I was going to build my dream career in Science Communication. My last assessment for my degree was to defend my Masters thesis and when I got to the end of that virtual meeting, it finally sunk in that this was it. I didn’t have to learn about Astrophysics anymore now that my degree was done. Suddenly I felt so sad! Luckily, a current science PhD student found me on Twitter a couple weeks before this asking if I was thinking about doing a PhD. At the time he messaged, I thought noopppeeeee but once I officially finished my degree I realised that there was no way that this could be the end of my Astrophysics journey. So now my career goals have come back full circle and Dr Polius is back on the bucket list! 

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non-scientific interests into your work.

My hobbies are centered on the Arts since I love art, craft, poetry and creative writing. In the social media realm, where I do most of my Science-related stuff these days, my interests have translated into taking creative selfies to complement my science content and explaining astrophysics concepts in fun, informal language to make it more suspenseful and interesting to readers. I also love using GIFs, memes, emojis and just being very expressive while texting in general. I believe incorporating these into my content, especially on Twitter really made it more engaging and digestible for everyone who came across it.

I also love talking about hair, especially curly and afro-textured hair since I have dedicated a lot of time to learning about my own. So right now, I am drafting up some ideas for hair-related science content and I’m very excited about that!

Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path?

You don’t need to have everything figured out right now. Ask for help! 

It can be overwhelming trying to plan your entire career in one go. Most people don’t stick to one career in their lifetime and there isn’t one straight path to the right career for you. You can find people in the field or job you want to be in on LinkedIn or other social media sites and start networking to learn more. It can be a bit intimidating at first but you will find so many people who are willing to help you (me included!). I started off by Googling “How to reach out to someone on LinkedIn” to draft my first messages and I got responses from people I never thought would give me the time of day! Some of them are super busy and may not have time to respond to you but it’s still worth a try! Just be clear about what you want to get out of the interaction. What do you have to lose?

Use the resources available. 

As I mentioned before, a simple internet search can work wonders but if you still have access to college/university career advisors, use them! They helped me so much not only with completing job applications but also to just keep pushing through during my job search when I was really discouraged from the many rejections/lack of responses.

Don’t be afraid to do something that isn’t science for a while. 

Science is AMAZING but the world has so much more to offer! There are non-science industries who love hiring us for our problem-solving, numeracy and computer skills, just to name a few. Don’t feel like you’re wasting your talent or not staying true to yourself if you branch out a little for the sake of being employed. If Science is your passion, you will always find a way back to it but why not pick up some new skills and connections along the way? You never know what opportunities might open up to you while you’re working in another field.

Lastly, remember, even if it might not feel like it right now, everything is going to work out! If no one else has told you today, I’m proud of you. You got this! 

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