Physics alumna to share continuing research in SAC keynote address

Working in research is all about sharing your experience with others. MSUM alumna Dr. Heather Cegla (she/they) is doing that by engaging with students as the keynote speaker for the 24th Annual Andrew B. Conteh Student Academic Conference (SAC).

Heather earned a bachelor of science in physics with an emphasis in astronomyand a minor in mathematics. The Dilworth native is as an assistant professor and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Warwick. They lead a “Towards Other Earths” research group in their astronomy section.

At MSUM, Cegla was heavily involved in the physics department, working as a lab demonstrator and a teaching assistant whenever they weren’t in class. They were also involved in Sigma Pi Sigma, a chapter of the physics honors society, participating in different outreach events and moonlighting as a tutor.

While pursuing their degree, Cegla realized they needed extra research experience to prepare them for a future career. They discussed project ideas with their professors.

“They were more than happy to engage with me. We would come up with a project together or they might’ve had a project that I helped with here and there,” they said.

Cegla participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, traveling to different universities around the country to perform research for 10-week summer sessions. They also went to England on a study abroad program at Keele University in their junior year.

“Having really great support from the physics professors that helped prepare me to be able to get those extra experiences,” they said.

Cegla remains connected with MSUM by giving physics seminars to students. They discussed their continuing research and gave advice for students wanting to attend grad school.

For this year’s conference, Heather will present research titled "Harnessing the power of stars to unveil alien worlds and our place in the cosmos.” They will discuss their research about characterizing planets outside our solar system. They work with simulations and observations to find methods of disentangling star signals with planetary signals to identify exoplanets. This research has been evolving since the start of their Ph.D. in fall of 2010.

The conference is nothing new to Cegla. As a student, they gave a poster presentation in 2008 and an invited talk in 2010. They learned many valuable lessons from showing their research as a student.

“Presenting at conferences helps me to understand my own work better. I have to understand it in a way where I can relay it to other people,” they said. “It's a useful skill to know how to condense information and to share it concisely and clearly.”

Cegla’s keynote address will take place on Tuesday, April 5 at the Student Academic Conference (SAC) via zoom. The full schedule and list of presenters can be found on the SAC Website.

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