On October 6th, the Physics, Computer Science and Engineering students and faculty had the pleasure of learning about Dr. Marissa Walker’s life and experiences. Dr. Walker teaches physics and astronomy, and this is her second year teaching at Christopher Newport University. She is also very involved in research on campus, specifically in LIGO.
When Dr. Walker was born, her parents were missionaries in Botswana, Africa, where she spent a good portion of her childhood. Dr. Walker shared some of the cool things she experienced in Botswana including being exposed to a different language and culture, attending religious services in a different language, and being outside in nature, close to wildlife, in a place where she could see the stars because there was so little light pollution. After middle school, her family moved to Texas where she stayed through college. Dr. Walker attended Abilene Christian University for her BS in physics and Louisiana State University for her Ph D in physics.
During high school, Dr. Walker was inspired to spend extra time learning about physics as she enjoyed the challenge and found that she understood it well. Her parents encouraged her to go into math and science, which was challenging as no one in her immediate family is involved in STEM, but they value higher education and know how to navigate it. Dr. Walker said her family is always there to support her.
Dr. Walker pursued studying gravitational waves in graduate school because of interest in the subject. She found that reading about LIGO was always more interesting to her than other areas of physics, and it seemed worth it to pursue further studies. After graduating, Dr. Walker spent a year in California for postdoctoral research. After that, she applied to teach at universities throughout the United States. Christopher Newport University was particularly appealing due to the existence of a LIGO research team. Research is a collaborative process, so it is important to Dr. Walker to be around people working on similar projects.
Alongside teaching, Dr. Walker is leading research projects with students. The LIGO group is a very active on campus research group. If any students are interested in participating in this research, they can reach out to Dr. Walker via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Walker shared her experiences with feeling out of place. Coming from Botswana, and being a woman in a mostly male dominated field have contributed to these feelings. Dr. Walker offered advice for anyone who may be facing similar struggles, “Find people to talk to that you can relate to. Find someone you work well with that you can be yourself around. Make friends, and find a supportive network.” Dr. Walker reported that overall, she has had a good experience in the field with some excellent mentors and awesome research groups.
Thank you Dr. Walker for sharing your unique experiences!