Receiving a telescope as a birthday gift around the age of 12 has kept Jedidah Isler looking toward the sky ever since. Both Isler’s undergraduate and master’s degrees are in physics, as neither Norfolk State University or Fisk University had degree programs in astrophysics. It wasn’t until she began working on her doctorate at Yale that she could truly focus her efforts on her passion. Completing her program in 2014 she became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Yale. While she acknowledges this as an important first in the broad picture of women of color in STEM it was more of a personal achievement for her and those supporting her in this challenging endeavor. Presently she is a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Post-Doctoral Fellow at Vanderbilt University where she studies supermassive hyperactive black holes at the center of galaxies, called blazars, which release streams of charged particles, called jets, that are oriented towards the Earth. These jets move at close to the speed of light and have a tremendous amount of energy as well and scientists like Isler are working to understand these space based particle accelerators and how they create these jets from the materials available to them.
Advocating and inspiring students from underrepresented backgrounds in the sciences to pursue a future in STEM fields is another focus for Isler. She speaks at various organizations across the United States to be a voice of encouragement to the next generation of STEM leaders. In hopes of providing a safe space for women of color to discuss their work in STEM fields as well as the challenges of working in these fields she started Vanguard, an interactive virtual panel discussion series on the topic. While she acknowledges that being a woman of color working in scientific fields can sometimes be discouraging it is important that you keep trying, keep working, and that while it isn’t always easy it is worth it.
Written by Angela Goad