Take Five with Briley Lewis ’18

Briley Lewis
Briley Lewis ’18 is a Ph.D. student in astronomy and astrophysics at UCLA and a National Science Foundation fellow. She is particularly passionate about science education, outreach and communication.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Honestly, terrified. I hadn’t ever been that far away from my family or ever lived outside of California, and no one in my family had gone away for college. Very quickly, I realized that I did not understand what I had signed up for. From the rigor of classes to the chill of winter to living on my own, there was a pretty steep learning curve in the beginning. I’m forever grateful to the friends and classmates who helped me adjust and find my community (and, as cheesy as it is, my “home away from home”).

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I spent my first year in Wallach 5. I shared a tiny double with a roommate, and our floor had the wildest community of not only first-years, but also upperclassmen, who taught us a lot about Columbia and NYC. The most memorable part, though, is all the fun I had with my roommate, Hailey Winstead ’18. We shared our feelings of homesickness and missing our families, our stresses (and excitements) of our first year of classes and other adventures, and our panic as winter began to set in, since we both grew up at the beach. When Taylor Swift’s album 1989 came out, we listened to one song each night before bed together until we had listened to the whole thing. And, she never judged me for eating cups of Nutella from the dining halls during midterms. That’s true friendship.

What class do you most remember and why?

One class that honestly revolutionized my worldview was “Science and Sensibility” with Meehan Crist SOA’08. My best friend, Julia Zeh ’18, convinced me to take it with her since she knew I had an interest in writing like she did, especially writing about science. I went in with the naïve view of a scientist — that all my science should just be interesting to everyone immediately, because don’t you get just how cool it is?! Quickly, by reading examples of great creative nonfiction, such as Coming into the Country by John McPhee and Radioactive by Lauren Redniss, I realized that even science has to have a story, giving people context and a motivation to listen to what you have to say. These principles now guide my scientific endeavors, and have inspired me to devote more time to public outreach and science writing in my career.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Nestled on the small top two floors of Pupin, the astronomy department was my second home. I spent a lot of time specifically in Pupin 1332, the astronomy classroom, which has a beautiful view of both campus and Manhattan, and an awesome huge photo of the Milky Way above the blackboards. Basically all of my major classes were in Pupin 1332, and it’s also where BlueShift (the undergraduate astronomy club) has all its meetings. I met some of my closest friends in that space, and it’s where I first felt like a real part of the astronomical community.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

In my sophomore year, a friend offered me tickets to go with him to see the Mets in the World Series. I (foolishly) turned him down since I was worried about an exam I had the next day. This is one of my biggest regrets to this day, and all my other regrets about college are things I wish I had said yes to instead of studying more for an exam. Lesson learned: that last bit of studying probably won’t make a huge difference, so whatever you’re thinking about doing — just do it!