Meet the Glorious Women of Astronomy
Sanika Khadkikar, undergraduate student at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad Campus, feels inspired by the success achieved by women in STEM . Find out her views in this Glorious Women feature.
What drove you to pursue Astrophysics as a research career?
My grandfather built me a telescope when I was very young. We used to stay up late at night, identifying constellations and discussing what lies beyond, which sowed the seeds of curiosity in me. Notions like ‘Gravity is just some magical force that we feel but cannot explain how it acts’ or that ‘Stars are just too far away for us to know what they're made of’ would always puzzle me. Eventually, as I started learning more and more about our universe, I could not stop, and that's when I knew astrophysics was the destination for me.
What hardships did you go through while being in your field?
Fortunately, my mentors, collaborators, teachers, parents, and friends have been very supportive of my career choice. We are all bound to come across some hardships in life. Tough decisions, failures, and even global pandemics test all of us to our limits. Thus naturally, I have also had my share of setbacks, but they will always fail to outweigh my motivation to keep going forward.
Could you list out the achievements in the course of research?
In the summer of 2019, I received an internship offer from the highly reputed Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics to work under the guidance of Prof. Sanjeev Dhurandhar. In the summer of 2020, I was also awarded the prestigious LIGO-SURF scholarship by the California Institute of Technology. Further, in December 2020, I received a remote internship offer from the LUTH Laboratory at the Paris Observatory to work with Dr. Micaela Oertel, which led to a publication in the Physical Review Journal C and the submission of another. Recently, in the summer of 2021, I received the honorary Charpak scholarship by the French Embassy in India. I also received the Abroad Thesis Scholarship by BITS Pilani to help me pursue my Masters thesis abroad at the Pennsylvania State University's gravity group.
Apart from research, what hobbies do you share?
I love to sing, play the guitar and watch Formula1! When some of my computations run for hours at a stretch, music and F1 races are my favourite modes of passing the time. Somehow, these harmonies and melodies in music have always made me feel closer to Physics. For several years of my life, acting fuelled me and gave me immense joy. Even though it has taken a back seat due to research, directing skits and acting in plays is something that I will always love to be a part of.
As a member of the LVK collaboration, how would you like to contribute to the Science community?
The LVK collaboration has grown so much since when it was first perceived. What's more exciting is that there are many more observational runs to be carried out, many more improvements to happen, and many more detectors to be built! All of this will require immense support from the LVK community, and I'm more than glad to be a part of it for the same. Deciphering the universe is the primary goal of the LVK collaboration, and I consider myself very lucky to contribute to making it happen.
What are your thoughts on Women in STEM?
Seeing so many women achieve the apex of success in STEM is beyond empowering for young scientists like me. Reading stories about women like Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Katherine Johnson, Vera Rubin, Caroline Herschel, Emmy Noether, and many many more inspired me to push through all the difficulties and pursue what I love, no matter what. I sincerely hope that women keep participating in STEM and continually inspire many generations to come. After all, the craziest dream of all is the one that starts a million more.