Around The Yard: Spencer Scott

Returning to for a second season, "Around The Yard: Life As A Harvard Student-Athlete" explores life away from the playing fields for select Harvard student-athletes through their own first-person narrative. For a full list of blog entries, click here.

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Spencer Scott
September 29, 2015

The late Carl Sagan once wrote in his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot, “Astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.”  Having been interested in astronomy since I was very young, I learned that lesson from an early age. What I did not know, however, is that coming to Harvard, too, is a humbling and character-building experience.

But definitely not in the same way for everyone.  Some people struggle being away from home for the first time, while others are overwhelmed by the talents of the students around them. Still others aren’t used to managing time like they need to in college. But for me, my biggest adjustment has been the sheer amount of work everything seems to take now. Sports have morning lift, meetings before practice, then practices themselves, and game days are almost entirely preparation for games. Classes might not meet for much time each week, but homework lasts several hours longer (I’ve already had a decent share of all nighters to get those last few questions on a p-set done!).

But through all the extra work, I wouldn’t trade this experience for a thing. My “homework” isn’t really work at all.  I get to study what I love in taking math and science courses, and I get to take a break from problem sets to ponder existence with course readings in my Ethical Reasoning course, “The Meaning of Life.” On top of that, I still have time to go up to the Loomis-Michael Observatory and help out with the Harvard Observing Project, where between observations, we have opportunities to capture images such as the one below.

That is a photo of the Ring Nebula, a planetary nebula in Lyra. It is also known as M57 in the Messier catalog of celestial objects. The photo was taken as a test to make sure the camera sensor was working properly and calibrated before moving on to take data at the target of the night: the binary system AG Pegasi. You can read more about why this was the target here.

Spending my free time helping researchers work on astronomy projects feels surreal to me. As I mentioned before, I have been interested in astronomy from a young age. I got my first (and only) telescope when I was about four years old, and though I never quite got good at using it, it got me interested in science early on. From then on, I became hooked on Discovery Channel programs about science, engineering, and most of all, space. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would have the opportunity to help out with astronomy research at the world’s top university, even if my help at the moment really just amounts to tagging along and watching the process and not doing much actual research. But hey, it’s a start!