Jedidah Isler is the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Yale University. Isler, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University achieved her historic mark in 2014.
Isler discovered a love of the skies and stars around 12 years old when she was growing up in Virginia Beach, Va. Her older sister gave her a telescope one year as a birthday gift and that further fueled her passion. She entered Norfolk State University as a physics student as the institution didn’t offer astronomy as a major. Isler earned the first of her master’s in Physics from Fisk University, which also didn’t offer astronomy as a major.
Isler gained experience in her current field via summer intern programs and other modes of study. It wasn’t until after she earned her second Physics master’s from Yale that she would finally gain a pathway into astronomy.
Isler was one of the many students to benefit from the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge program, which aims to diversify the STEM fields at the college level. Created by Vanderbilt astronomy professor Keivan Stassun, the program is a partnership between the two universities that began in 2004. The aim is that students take courses at Fisk before entering Ph.D. programs at Vanderbilt.
Isler opted instead to return to Yale for her history-making Ph.D., and shared in an interview with NPR how difficult the process was at times. Isler recalled that during a dinner outing with other Yale students, a male student collected the dishes from the meal and placed them in front of her and made insensitive remarks about her place at the university.
Isler credits Stassun as a mentor and aims to do what she can to further break down the barriers at some of America’s top universities for people of color in the science field.