Anastasia Bizyaeva easily found her way into the sciences. It was a natural path with few obstacles, or so she thought until she got to Berkeley. "My mother was an engineering professor in Russia and so was my father. Having both parents in STEM made me oblivious to the lack of women in the sciences. I didn't know it was not normal for girls to study physics or engineering. I hadn't heard that narrative until I got to college and realized how few women were in my classes."
This physics major is also minoring in mechanical engineering, but she was originally interested in molecular cell biology. "I applied to colleges with the intention to study biology and eventually apply to medical school. During my senior year of high school I volunteered at a hospital in Southern California, the UC Irvine Medical Center. By the end of my volunteer work there I realized that medicine was not a field I would want to be in for the rest of my life." At the same time, Anastasia was taking AP Physics and AP Calculus with two great teachers and fell in love with the subjects. "The two teachers saw that I had a talent for math and physics. They encouraged me to explore these subjects further in college. By the time I got to Berkeley I knew that I wanted to study physics and pursued it immediately."
In Berkeley she quickly found her way to research opportunities. The first was in particle physics working with the ATLAS Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, part of the international ATLAS collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. "I worked with Dr. Marjorie Shapiro for about a year on studies of predictions for the kinematics of top-quark pair production. I had only taken a few physics courses at the freshman/sophomore level when I got started. Dr. Shapiro had me work on a project where I could learn the tools of particle physics without fully understanding complexity of the math and physics behind it. Generally, undergraduates join physics groups without having already developed a deep understanding of the physics at hand. We don't quite have enough background knowledge yet to fully appreciate everything the group does, but immersion in research helps motivate our studies." Although Anastasia enjoyed the research and the group, she discovered a growing interest in a different field of physics.
She took a series of classes on dynamics in the mechanical engineering department as a part of her minor and realized that she really enjoyed the subject. Then through Berkeley Connect, an academic mentoring program made up of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members, Anastasia discovered dynamics was also part of physics. "One physics graduate student mentioned that his research is in the field of non-linear dynamics. It peaked my interest as I had really enjoyed my coursework in dynamics and was enrolled in a graduate level course in the subject that semester. I ended up contacting him to see if there were any openings in his group for an undergraduate. I didn't quite know where to start so I asked for a project suggestion to work on to get some exposure to the field. I wanted to see if it's something I would want to pursue graduate studies in." That's how she started working with Professor Edgar Knobloch's research group under the guidance of Punit Gandhi.
Anastasia was the only undergraduate in the group and also the only female. "I'm still the only woman in the group. Women and minority students have a very high dropout rate from the major. I've noticed that most of the women whom I know who stuck around in physics have a parent who is an engineer, a professor or something similar – they grew up exposed to STEM just like I was." She is part of the physics department's Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Harassment that was formed in light of the Professor Geoff Marcy harassment case and also the current president of the UC Berkeley Society of Physics Students.
Anastasia has found a community that reflects her life and academic experience among the Cal NERDS. She is a member of the PROTON Physics Undergraduate Research Program and also a Bergeron Scholar. "My family had a lot of financial trouble when we first came to this country. I love the undergraduate community we have in the department, but there are many aspects of my life which most of my physics peers can't relate to. The Cal NERDS provides us with an opportunity to interact with STEM students who face similar struggles, financial and otherwise. I found it to be very valuable as it makes you feel a lot less like an outsider."
Anastasia will soon be applying to graduate programs. "I haven't quite narrowed down the list of programs I will be applying to yet. I have to look at what research is going on and where and make informed choices. I'm really excited to see where I end up."