The Wesleyan Argus | WesCeleb: Anna Fehr ’23 Talks Astronomy Research, WesWIS, and Juggling Everything

c/o The Wesleyan Connection

Anna Fehr ’23 is deeply immersed in science on campus. From serving as the teaching assistant (TA) for a computer science class and conducting research with Associate Professor of Astronomy and Integrative Sciences Meredith Hughes in the Astronomy Department to being on the steering committee of the University’s Women in Science group (WesWIS), she is an exemplary woman in STEM at the University. Fehr sat down with The Argus to discuss her love of science, what it’s like to have three majors, and how she manages to fit everything into her busy schedule.

The Argus: Why do you think that you were nominated for WesCeleb?

Anna Fehr: I think one way that a lot of people know my name is from me being their TA. When I’m walking around, a lot of times people I don’t recognize say hi to me. They’re usually people I was a TA for in [Computer Science].

A: What are you involved in around campus?

AF: My biggest non-class time commitment is probably research. I do research in the astronomy department. I’m also involved in Wes Women In Science. I’m also involved in outreach in astronomy—public observing [for people to use school telescopes] is hopefully coming soon!

A: What is the most rewarding part of being on the steering committee of WesWIS?

AF: I’ve been doing it since my second month at Wesleyan. One of the things I really enjoy about WesWIS is how much control the steering committee has. So as you spend more time on the steering committee, you can really shape it however you want. I found that really satisfying. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities for students to receive advice from other students, in terms of summer research opportunities, academic advising, course selection, all that kind of stuff. And I think a lot of those advising relationships become social as well, which provides a lot of community.

A: What drew you to triple major in astronomy, physics, and computer science?

AF: At first, I thought I was going to do math, maybe physics, and then some non-STEM subject, but I ended up taking astronomy randomly my first year and really loved that. I got super involved in research and I got taken down the astronomy path as a result of that. And then a lot of astronomy majors also double in physics [because] there’s a lot of overlap in the coursework.

Then I kind of came to [computer science] at the beginning of my sophomore year, partly because a lot of astronomy research is very computationally-focused.

A: Has there been a favorite class that you’ve taken at Wesleyan?

AF: That class that I took freshman year, “Introduction to Astrophysics,” might still be my favorite class. It has a very special place in my heart. The instructor of that course [Hughes] is now my research advisor and she’s really awesome! I’ve had so many opportunities through that relationship and through the department.

I also took a course called “Extinction/Rebellion: Christianity and the Climate Crisis.” It was during COVID, so I feel like I could have gotten more out of it, but I still enjoyed it. And the reading list was super cool. It made me think about science and religion in a way that I hadn’t before.

A: What advice would you give to an incoming freshman who wants to get involved in science and computer science at Wesleyan?

AF: Always remember that people have different backgrounds, and if it feels like people are ahead of you they may not be. You just don’t see them fail. You only see yourself fail. The experience and opportunities you’ve had entering Wesleyan are not the same, regardless of where you went to school or the exact details of how your life went and what courses you took in high school. So there’s nothing to be gained by comparing yourself to other people in your courses.

Generally, faculty want to talk to you, and they want to help you, especially at Wesleyan. Many people work at Wesleyan because they can teach small classes and get to know undergrads so take advantage of that network because that’s one of the really special things about a liberal arts college for science.

A: Has there been someone who has influenced you the most in your time at Wesleyan?

AF: Yeah, my advisor Meredith Hughes. She’s basically the reason I’m an astronomy major and applying to grad school. I’ve met with her every week at Wesleyan. Why I believe astronomy is important for a society to have, and why I think it’s something worth doing, are very connected to conversations I’ve had with her.

A: Do you have any plans after Wesleyan at the moment?

AF: I’m applying to astronomy Ph.D. programs. That is my plan A, but I’m also considering going into software [development], depending on how the application process goes. That plan isn’t fully fleshed out.

A: So apart from being involved in science on campus, acting as a TA, and researching, what are your hobbies?

AF: I love to cook! I feel like when I’m at Wes, I rarely have time to cook, and that made me really sad. Yesterday, I made a frittata, and it was amazing! It was the first time I’ve cooked since getting here [this semester] because it’s been a crazy few weeks, and it was really nice. I crochet, and I like to hike, which I usually don’t get the chance to do at Wesleyan. I’m from California, and hiking and camping are really important to me.

A: With all that you do on campus, it seems like you must manage your time well. Do you have advice for managing your time?

AF: I feel like one of the keys to getting a lot done is to be the opposite of a perfectionist. Just be okay with half-assed things.

If you’re trying to take five credits and TA and do research or play a sport, you’re just not going to have time to give one hundred percent on everything. Being able to prioritize [is important]. I heard a quote: “You’re juggling too many things. Imagine you have a bunch of balls that are made of rubber, and some made of glass. So you have to know which ones you can drop.” That is definitely my philosophy. There are always things that fall through the cracks, even if you’re only a little bit busy. Making sure that the right things fall is what’s important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kelly Zhang can be reached at [email protected]

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