Erin Hayes, a senior studying astrophysics in the College, has been named the recipient of a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and will pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Cambridge in England.
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is an annual program granting around 80 fully funded scholarships to students who wish to pursue a postgraduate degree in any subject offered at Cambridge. The program provides funding for up to four years of study for Ph.D. students. Hayes joins the ranks of 32 previous Gates Cambridge Scholars from Penn since the program’s inception in 2001, according to PennToday. She will begin her studies at Cambridge this October.
Hayes, who is from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, is a student in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences majoring in astrophysics. Through Penn’s submatriculation program, she will also receive a master’s degree in physics upon graduation in May.
Hayes is one of the 23 Gates Cambridge Scholars from the United States this year. The American students will join about 60 more students — who have yet to be announced — from across the world.
At Cambridge, Hayes will continue her research at the Institute of Astronomy under Astrostatistics professor Kaisey Mandel. Hayes said her work will focus on “looking at different types of exploding stars and evaluating their characteristics” while “making more precise measurements of the accelerated expansion of the universe.”
Hayes said that she became interested in astronomy after taking an astrophysics class in high school. She said she took an introductory physics course during her first-year fall semester at Penn and which propelled her to pursue the subject.
At Penn, Hayes has done research under Physics and Astronomy professor Maoso Sako.
“A few months after completing [his] class, I reached out to him, and asked if he would like to take me on as an undergraduate researcher,” Hayes said. "The first project I worked on I was looking for black holes based on the way they affected other stars in the sky."
Hayes is also engaged within the Penn and West Philadelphia communities. She is the chair of Penn’s Dance Arts Council, a member of Penn Astronomical Student Association, and a tutor for the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project, according to PennToday.
She added that mentorship is important to her. As a member of Women in Physics, Hayes has had the chance to “show people their potential through being a mentor.” She further emphasized the importance of supporting other women in the STEM community.
“I wouldn’t be in this position without a bunch of wonderful people behind me, whether it be teachers, professors, friends, or family,” Hayes said about her accomplishments.