Professor and Chair of Department of Physics & Astronomy, Sonoma State UniversityLynn Cominsky


What qualities or skills are important for this career? Having a broad background in both physics and astronomy has allowed me to continually evolve through high-energy astrophysics research into STEM education and curriculum development.

Also, having a thick skin, and not being bothered by often being the only woman in a room filled with men.

Persistence is probably the most important part of a career in physics. Everyone thinks you have to be a genius, but really you just have to be really stubborn and not give up when times get tough.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? I like the creativity involved in trying to figure out why students are struggling and how to inspire them into doing STEM. I have a particular passion for getting students (especially women) involved with hands-on hardware projects–this is an important skill that will serve them well in the future, and is also good for the future of the economy.

What are the most difficult aspects of your work? Trying to keep the funding flowing stably so that all my staff stay employed.

What is the most interesting or unusual experience of your career? I have made several discoveries in high-energy astronomy of which I am very proud. Recently, I got my Level 2 certification in high-powered rocketry at the Black Rock desert (where they hold Burning Man) in Nevada. It is an amazingly beautiful and eerie place, and as close to living on an alien planet as possible here on Earth.

What types of people do you interact with at your job? I work with a very talented staff in my research group–some are PhD scientists, and others are Bachelor’s level. Plus, lots of my students–this summer we have ten students doing work building antennas for ground stations to talk to small satellites, working on the next small satellite design, building rockets, and designing electronics for classroom use and use in orbit. Also, helping us develop an online curriculum in Cosmology, and new environmentally-oriented experiments for high school students.

In my department, I have four tenured faculty, and about six lecturers. My work there involves scheduling classes, and running the department. And meetings–lots of meetings.

Coffee shop drink of choice? Chai tea lattes made with non-fat milk.

Read more about her career! AstrophysicistCollege ProfessorResearcher

Bio: Although she is an astrophysicist now, Lynn didn’t always have this career in mind. When she was younger, Lynn wanted to become a psychologist! However, she decided to go to Brandeis University, where she received a B.A. in physics with honors in chemistry, and graduated magna cum laude. She then went on to earn her PhD in physics from MIT. Her mentor was Christine Jones, a professional astronomer at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She was the first female scientist that Lynn had ever met, and she encouraged Lynn to attend graduate school and continue in x-ray astronomy. Lynn met her when she came to work at CfA after graduating college and before attending graduate school at MIT. On a typical day at her job, Lynn spends a lot of time writing emails and reports, and in telecons and meetings. However, on really fun days, she is training teachers, travelling somewhere new, developing new ideas for curricula for high school students, or launching rockets! She is surprised by how much time she spends travelling as part of her job, and how much her career has changed from research into education. One of her personal goals is to transform STEM education in the US! Outside of work, Lynn enjoys riding her horse on the beautiful coastal trails of Northern California. She also takes care of all the animals who live at her Little H-bar Ranch–one dog, two pygmy goats, three cats, three horses, five chickens, and one pheasant! The name “Little H-bar Ranch” merges an important concept in physics–Planck’s constant–with a western-style brand. In addition, Lynn is also a Level 2 rocketeer and a member of AeroPac!