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Student story

Rosemary Dorsey

20 July 2023

"I would like to work as an astronomy researcher overseas in various observatories..."


Rosemary was inspired by the planets after reading a book by Dava Sobel on the Solar System and has since made understanding more about the universe her primary interest.

When the opportunity came in her last year of high school to apply for UC’s Aurora Astronomy School (now the Elaine P. Snowden Astronomy School), Rosemary joined the 5-day experience on campus and at the Mount John Observatory in Tekapo, learning astrophysics and getting to use modern astronomical equipment.

“After this, I was thoroughly fascinated by how space worked and decided to explore it further as a part of my Physics study at UC,” she says.

Having a long-developed love for the sciences, Rosemary’s undergraduate study was made up of a variety of maths and physics areas. UC was her first choice due to its course offerings and her family being graduates, as well as getting to enrol with a UC Merit Scholarship for her NCEA results.

“In my degree, I enjoyed the diversity of the courses that I took each year – they have different assessment structures, different lecture material and different lecturing styles which makes it easy to enjoy each course individually.

“I enjoy understanding physical concepts and being able to rationalise different physical situations, and then also being able to explain to my peers how they work.”

In her second year, Rosemary received the New Zealand Institute of Physics Prize, and in her third the Haydon Prize in Physics, for her results in course and laboratory work. Her overall results in her Bachelor of Science degree earned her a Sir George Grey Scholarship, as a top science undergraduate student.

When she was studying her bachelor's and master's she was a part of the PhysSoc and MathSoc clubs. This was a great way for her to gain some extra support, with tutorials and preparation for exams, and discussions organised by their community.

Rosemary was also a member of the SVA, and was a volunteer in the Colour Run event for Christchurch in 2015 as an awesome experience she ‘wouldn’t have otherwise had’.

Now studying a PhD degree in Astronomy, Rosemary has been able to support other students as a Teaching Assistant for the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, which includes running tutorials for first-year Physics students, and as an Astronomy Lab Demonstrator.

Another exciting role with UC is being a Science Outreach Assistant for the Elaine P. Snowden Astronomy School for the last few years, helping other students be inspired by the universe.

So far in her research, Rosemary has been awarded the Dennis William Moore Scholarship for her work at Mt John Observatory, the Alister George McLellan Prize for producing the best Astronomy honours research project in 2018, and a grant by the LSST Corporation for early career research related to the upcoming LSST survey.

Rosemary was doing her “…thesis with supervisor Karen Pollard on understanding and characterising variable, pulsating stars, using the high-resolution HERCULES spectrograph at the Mount John observatory.” She is currently working towards a PhD in Astronomy with supervisors Michele Bannister, Alex Parker and Samantha Lawler. Her research focuses on debiasing the observed outer Solar System small body populations using software called a survey simulator, which simulates the object detections of a survey given a specified model population. Since the outer solar system is far away, when a survey is run the observed objects are preferentially the biggest, brightest and/or closest of their population. As part of her study, Rosemary is able to make connects all over the world. “I am a member of the Solar System Science Collaboration which is a network of Solar System scientists and researchers working to prepare the science community for the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). It is encouraging to be able to connect with like-minded people of all different careers and backgrounds while building on my academic and personal skills.”

She advises other students in Physics and Astronomy study to persevere with their learning for their interests to be fully realised. “People don’t understand physics in a day - it takes time to learn different concepts in order to really start to understand how it all fits together and that takes determination and commitment.

A career travelling the world and researching the universe would be ideal after she finishes at UC. “I am currently interested in following the academic research pathway, working with fellow researchers all over the world to make advancements in our knowledge of the Universe. I would like to travel to and live in different countries when researching, such as America and Europe (perhaps the Netherlands because of my Dutch heritage). I also hope that I can continue to incorporate teaching in my work as I find it energising and fulfilling.”

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