UC grad finds success following her passion, studying the stars
Amanda Bauer credits her career to A&S physics program, influential professors
Amanda Bauer might have spent her career traveling the globe with a degree in French, but the future had other plans.
Instead, she found her calling in astronomy at the University of Cincinnati.
Bauer graduated from UC's College of Arts and Sciences in 2002 with a bachelor of science with high honors. Today, she is deputy director and head of science and education for Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, which is home to the world's largest refracting telescope.
When Bauer came to UC, she had a dilemma like many other high school graduates. She knew what she wanted to study but was unsure of the path.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to study astronomy, but had not met any scientists and honestly did not know it was physics. So, I majored in French thinking I could travel — my other passion,” Bauer said.
Bauer came to see that her first choice was not the right fit, despite her love of travel. She loved astronomy, but no track or major existed within the university at the time.
Bauer sought the guidance of physics Professor Mike Sitko to get her undergraduate studies on the right track. Sitko taught the introduction to astronomy course and hired the former French major to test new astronomy devices of his that summer. Bauer switched her major to physics and planned to focus entirely on astronomy during her undergraduate years — then she met physics Professor Margaret Hanson, now interim associate dean of the college.
“She helped with more than just course work. She offered perspective and real career advice. She suggested I apply to graduate school when no one else did, and then she guided me and held me accountable when I did not get into some of the first schools I applied to,” Bauer said. “I am very grateful to her for staying interested in me when I needed her guidance the most.
“I took every opportunity I could to focus on astronomy – through the projects I worked on, summer programs, acting as a teaching assistant for an astronomy course, and attending some of the graduate courses as well."
I took every opportunity I could to focus on astronomy – through the projects I worked on, summer programs, acting as a teaching assistant for an astronomy course, and attending graduate courses.
Amanda Bauer, Deputy Director of Yerkes Observatory
Bauer’s first research program through UC was the Women in Science and Engineering program. She worked with other physics professors, learning tensor notation and coding in the technical computing program Wolfram Mathematica during her research.
“I was so proud of the report I wrote at the end of the summer… and it helped me to get to know the other women in physics and engineering.”
Following that program, Bauer spent the following two summers working at Fermilab Chicago as the only undergraduate intern for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The opportunity came about when she met with particle physicist Janet Conrad at a departmental event. Bauer was the only attendee for the first 30 minutes, and she left an impression. Conrad extended an interest offer to work with astronomers for Sloan.
Bauer noted the opportunity with Sloan as the most pivotal moment of her undergraduate career.
“It was a fantastic research internship that solidified in my mind that I wanted to do astronomy and I was able to present the research I did through a poster at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington DC,” she said. Bauer also notes the construction of the telescope on the roof of the physics building, dubbed Leroy, as another pivotal moment in her undergraduate career.
“I named the dish after my grandfather who passed away that year. I was delighted to visit UC and speak with the undergraduate students several years ago who were still using the radio dish and did not know why it was called Leroy!”
Following graduation, Bauer traveled to Hawaii and Chile to use large telescopes and work at world-class observatories while receiving her doctorate from the University of Texas-Austin. She followed up with a postdoctoral research opportunity at the University of Nottingham in England for three years. Bauer then lived in Sydney, Australia, as a fellow at the Australian Astronomical Observatory for seven years, combining both her love of travel and astronomy.
Bauer’s career might have taken a different path had she not found her way into the Department of Physics and met many who guided her along the way. Her experience was transformative, she said, allowing her to dive into material she was fascinated with and build excellent relationships with her cohort of fellow students.
Featured image at top: Stars in the night sky. Credit/Jeremy Thomas for Unsplash.
By Serigne Thiam
Student Journalist, A&S Department of Marketing and Communication