Jan Eldridge is an Associate Professor and Head of the Physics Department at The University of Auckland.
There’s a catchphrase related to Jan Eldridge’s work that seems to have stuck, and it’s one she delivers with a smile: “I study exploding stellar binaries while exploding the myth of a gender binary.”
The Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Auckland, recently named Head of the Physics Department, has spent her career researching the life and death of stars in the furthest reaches of space and co-developed a key tool, the Binary Population and Spectral Synthesis (BPASS) code that assists other researchers in making new discoveries.
Born in the UK, she followed a love of science fiction including Star Trek and Star Wars, into degrees from the University of Cambridge including a PhD in astrophysics. As a non-binary trans woman, Dr Eldridge strives for more diverse representation and inclusive experiences for LGBTQ+ people in science and academia, contributing to the Faculty of Science Equity committee as well as the Rainbow Science Network and Trans On Campus.
Feeling confident and worthy in both of those areas of her life hasn’t come without significant challenges. “I feel two kinds of imposter syndromes,” she says. “The regular, which is very common in academia and even more so in astronomy. You see all these people doing this really amazing work and you think, ‘Why am I here? When am I going to be discovered for faking it, for just being lucky with everything I do?’” Eldridge says she’s finally reached a point where although she’s aware of those thoughts, it’s easier to successfully challenge them.
“Then there’s ‘Am I a woman?’” she says of her ongoing journey of self-recognition. “It’s a really difficult thing to try and work out. “I’d normally try and stay safe by calling myself non-binary but what’s actually given me the confidence of saying ‘I’m a woman’ is people accepting me as myself, especially at work. It changes things completely because it’s not just me trying to understand who I am, it’s other people observing me and saying ‘Jan, you are you.’ Other people’s support is really important.”