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Dr. Tanya Harrison

Graduate school is hard. Not going to sugar coat that. But it can also be a truly amazing and unique time in your life, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be miserable on top of being difficult. Here are some things you can do and think about before you even start applying to Ph.D. programs* that can help make the experience better—and hopefully something that makes you grow as a person and as a researcher:

And if you’re on the fence about whether getting a Ph.D. is right for you in the first place, check out this other article.

A student wearing a typical Ph.D. graduation outfit with a red and purple hood, facing away from the camera looking over a lake.
A student wearing a typical Ph.D. graduation outfit with a red and purple hood, facing away from the camera looking over a lake.
A student wearing a typical Ph.D. graduation outfit. Image credit: @Hsengkeungmurng99 (CC0)

1. Find an advisor who is a good fit for you

In…


The following is an excerpt from For All Humankind: The Untold Stories of How the Moon Landing Inspired the World by Tanya Harrison and Danny Bednar.

Sketch of Matias walking beneath the Milky Way. Art by Ray Brisendine.
Sketch of Matias walking beneath the Milky Way. Art by Ray Brisendine.
Sketch of Matias walking beneath the Milky Way. Art by Ray Brisendine.

The small wooden bookshelf in Matias’ room housed a collection of science fiction classics, including Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Contained within their pages were the blueprints for a child’s dreams of space travel. For most of human history, this was the only way space travel happened, in the imaginations of writers and on the page.

But dreams of humans travelling into space didn’t stay on the pages of fiction. For Matias…


The Space Race might have been America versus the Soviets, but how was the race viewed by the rest of the world?

On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on a celestial body beyond Earth while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins kept dutiful watch from orbit overhead. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and a “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, this amazing achievement could have easily been touted as a win for the U.S., …


The New Pride flag, composed of Hubble Space Telescope images. Created by Laurie Raye.

For years, I’ve been quite frank and open on social media (mainly Twitter) about a lot of aspects of my life and professional career as a scientist: How having a physical disability has impacted things, my experiences with harassment that nearly drove me out of the field, making the shift from academia to industry, and more. But my gender identity and sexuality are never things I really touched on directly because I didn’t think it affected my professional life—and the things I had made the decision to talk about on social media were pretty much all related to my career…


Perseverance captured this view of Ingenuity’s third flight on Mars with its Mastcam-Z camera. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

The tiny 4-pound (1.8 kg) helicopter that hitched a ride to Mars with NASA’s Perseverance rover just got a mission upgrade. Initially planned as a “technology demonstration” to prove whether or not powered flight was possible in the thin martian atmosphere, Ingenuity surpassed all expectations on the—at the time of writing—four flights it has successfully conducted thus far in its short tenure on Mars. …


Four years ago on Earth Day, I spoke in front of a crowd of approximately 3,000 people in Toronto for the March for Science on the importance of assets in space in the everyday lives of Canadians here on Earth. Since the messages are still entirely relevant today, here is the full text of that speech. (Note that certain references and budgets given are reflective of 2017, where the speech was given.)

Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques snapped this view of some of Canada’s major cities at night in a single frame from the Cupola window aboard the International Space Station in 2019.

As a scientist who works on robots that we send to other planets, I often hear complaints about how much money is spent on “space.” Space is viewed…


Most people are probably familiar, even if not by name, with the iconic “Earthrise” and “Blue Marble” view of Earth taken by Apollo astronauts on their journeys to the Moon. Apollo 8’s Earthrise, taken on Christmas Eve in 1968, is often referred to as one of the catalysts that led to the environmental movement and the creation of Earth Day. Since then, many other space missions have captured photographs of Earth on their way to their final destinations across the Solar System. …


Scientists and engineers are nerds who like to have a bit of fun—even when it comes to their spacecraft. Let’s take a look at some of the Easter Eggs they’ve put aboard the rovers and landers on Mars:

The Code in the Parachute

Actual footage from the Perseverance rover looking up at its parachute as it was landing on Mars in February 2021. You can view the entire descent video here. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Actual footage from the Perseverance rover looking up at its parachute as it was landing on Mars in February 2021. You can view the entire descent video here. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Actual footage from the Perseverance rover looking up at its parachute as it was landing on Mars in February 2021. You can view the entire descent video here. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perhaps the most famous Easter egg recently was hidden in the landing parachute for NASA’s Perseverance rover. At first glance, you might not think anything of the design. But there is actually a binary code in the pattern. …


This week, NASA’s Curiosity rover returned a stunning image of martian clouds.

Twilight clouds over “Mont Mercou” as seen by the Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3072 (March 28, 2021). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Twilight clouds over “Mont Mercou” as seen by the Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3072 (March 28, 2021). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Twilight clouds over Mont Mercou in Gale Crater, as seen by the Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) onboard NASA’s Curiosity rover on sol 3072 (March 28, 2021). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Mars is a freezing polar desert. Nearly all of the water there is locked up in ice in the polar caps or surface frost, buried underground, or locked up in the mineral structures within rocks. But some of it exists high in the air as water-ice clouds. The image above shows the latest view of these clouds on Mars, hanging over the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater near dusk on the 3072nd martian day (“sol”) the rover has been on the surface of the Red Planet. …


Eric Berger’s new book gives me a whole new appreciation for what Elon Musk and all of the talented engineers at SpaceX have managed to achieve.

“Liftoff” (Publisher: William Morrow, 2021); ISBN: 978–0–06–297997–1

The commercial space landscape has come a long way in the past decade. Ten years ago, SpaceX barely had any successful launches under their belt. The Space Shuttle was about to retire, and I doubt anyone around at the time would have guessed that the next time humans launched into space from American soil would be aboard a SpaceX rocket, inside a SpaceX crew capsule, only nine years later. …

Dr. Tanya Harrison

Professional Martian. PhD Geoscientist at Planet Labs. Former operations team member for Opportunity, Curiosity, & the Mars Recon. Orbiter. Views = my own.

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