Where They’re Headed: Elizabeth Teng ’20

The physics and astronomy major is continuing her studies in an astronomy Ph.D. program at Northwestern University.

Although she has finished her time at Haverford as a double major in physics and astronomy, Elizabeth Teng ‘20 is only beginning her journey in the greater world of academia. She is currently working towards her Ph.D. in astronomy at Northwestern University, where she is researching gravitational waves.

Teng was introduced to the topics via summer research at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a topic that would evolve into her senior thesis at Haverford.

“I developed a tool that uses machine learning to predict the output of computationally expensive radiative transfer simulations of baby planetary systems,” she said. “Working on this project helped me discover my interest in complex inference techniques, which I will explore in my graduate research.”

It was, in fact, her search for summer research opportunities that led her to NRAO, and later Northwestern University.

“When I applied to summer research programs last year, I was offered a spot in this group as part of Northwestern’s Astronomy REU,” said Teng, “but I ended up deciding to pursue a summer project offered to me at NRAO. Northwestern ended up being a great fit for grad school because of their department’s focus on interdisciplinary research and expertise in astronomical data science.”

Teng didn’t start college hoping to pursue astronomy. She initially declared a major in a different department, and later felt isolated as one of only a few women of color in the astronomy department. But her passion for astronomy was reignited by Professor Andrea Lommen, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who encouraged her to begin research.

“Andrea has been hugely valuable and influential as a mentor and advocate, and she has truly helped me grow and define myself as a scientist. The challenges I experienced due to the department climate prompted me to advocate for equity and inclusion, in an effort to ameliorate the serious attrition of marginalized students from the major,” said Teng. “All of the physics and astronomy faculty have provided crucial support in my and other students’ efforts to improve climate by building community among gender minorities in physics and astronomy, and by identifying and addressing harmful norms [and] behavior within the department.”

Now, Teng has joined the ranks of Chicago-area aspiring astrophysicists from Haverford, along with David Zegeye ‘19, who is working towards his own Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.