While recent studies have shown Filipino students falling behind other countries in math and science, one young Filipina is stepping up to prove that her countrymen are anything but.
Her name is Marielle Eduardo, a 24-year-old Taiwan-based Pinay now living her dream of being an astronomer.
The eldest child of two mechanical engineering graduates, Marielle is the first in her family to take up a career in science. She considers the journey challenging, but because of her strong knack for outer space, it was not rocket science.
Her lifelong love for the cosmos, Marielle said, was developed from watching the ’90s science show Sineskwela. “It started when I watched a Sineskwela episode where they discussed the Solar System. I got hooked on it instantly,” she revealed in an e-mail interview with Speed.
“At first, I wanted to be an astronaut. Hindi naman kasi sikat ang ‘astronomer’ na profession, so wala akong idea about it before. But then later on I found out that you can actually study and do astronomy without actually being in outer space,” she continued. “My dream job is to be in the mission control center calculating how much time we have before an asteroid hits us or before the end of the world—just like in movies!”
“My parents took mechanical engineering in college, so enjoying numbers just came naturally to me. Then growing up, I enjoyed science. So it’s like both my enjoyment solving problems and passion in science/experiments led me to pursue physics,” the astronomer added.
Marielle graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of the Philippines Baguio in 2018. She pursued a master’s degree in astronomy at the National Central University (NCU) in Zhongli District, Taiwan, prior to working as a research assistant in the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“In anything you pursue, you really have to put yourself into it and work hard. Astronomy is indeed a difficult path because it requires strong physics and coding knowledge, but I really enjoyed learning and going to class!” she recalled.
Apart from her passion for science, being surrounded by fellow Filipino whizzes has made Marielle’s schooling in Taiwan a pleasant and valuable experience.
“There were roughly 20 Filipino students pursuing graduate studies in NCU during my time—ten of which are in the physics and astronomy department, which are both located in the same building. We usually hang out together on campus and celebrate the holidays together with Filipino food so I rarely get homesick,” Marielle said.
“Besides, my family and I talk almost every day… Before the pandemic, I also go home every end of semester. Even my mom said, ‘Para ka lang ulit nag-aaral sa Baguio!'” she added. “To be honest, the only thing that I miss is Jollibee!”
Reaching for the stars for a deep purpose
Contrary to popular belief, working as an astronomer today doesn’t require one to spend hours gazing at the stars or the planets—all thanks to the world’s ever-evolving technology. “As long as I have the internet and my laptop with me, I’m good to go,” Marielle remarked.
She expounded, “Although my field is observational astronomy, we don’t actually do the real observations. Believe it or not, almost all telescope observations now are done remotely. We leave the actual operations to telescope operators, although in some cases you can join during the actual observations.”
One instance was when the young astronomer and her classmates spent two nights at the NCU Lulin observatory, located at the top of the Lulin mountain, for their observational astronomy class.
Marielle continued, “As for my work now, I use archived data, meaning the data gathered over the past years. I create a series of codes to be able to process those data and extract information.”
But as in all things that require scientific knowledge and special technical skills, Marielle’s job has its own travails. “It’s really challenging especially when you are dealing with huge datasets,” she told Speed. “I don’t consider myself to be good at coding. In fact, I just try to learn from my daily tasks and also with the help of Google.”
At the end of the day, Marielle said, “satisfaction comes from making the codes work.”
Apart from having a fulfilling end in mind, Marielle has been driven by the endless support she’s been getting from her parents.
“I am lucky to have parents who support my decisions in life and my dream of becoming a scientist or astronomer. Although they barely understand what I do, I know my mom and dad are always proud of me!” she beamed.
More than that, Marielle has always worked hard in the hope of becoming an inspiration to young Filipinos, whose untapped potential can create game-changing breakthroughs in science.
“I always tell myself that I owe my education to the people, especially Filipinos. The Philippines is undeniably lagging behind the astronomy program, so what inspired me to keep going are the kids who need the inspiration to pursue science or astronomy,” Marielle said.
She added, “I didn’t have a model figure pursuing this field, and I know how important it is to have someone to look up to. I want to be that person for aspiring astronomers in our country.”