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Past: Fall 2014: David Principe

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Featured Graduate Student: Fall 2014

Dave Principe

I was first introduced to astronomy at a young age when my parents purchased glow in the dark stickers of stars and planets to stick to the ceiling above my bed.  After countless nights of staring up and wondering what causes the swirls on Jupiter or the rings of Saturn, I knew I needed to learn more.  Coming from the state where the Wright brothers invented the airplane and great astronauts like Neil Armstrong and John Glenn called home, Ohio offered many opportunities to study space science and astronomy before college.  After taking my first dedicated astronomy course offered in Mentor High School's planetarium, I knew pursuing astronomy in college was the right choice for me.  After high school, I attended Ohio University and spent every summer with a different astronomy professor working on research.  After four years I graduated with a B.S. in both Astrophysics and Mathematics and began my life as a graduate student at RIT.  Even though most of my research experience at OU had been in extragalactic topics, I was very interested in star and planet formation and began working with my advisor, Dr. Joel Kastner, researching high energy phenomena during star formation.


1) How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?

My research is aimed at understanding the environment in which stars and planets form.  That means I study all stages of star formation starting with the gravitational collapse of a molecular cloud all the way to the formation of a star and planet, much like the Sun and planets in our solar system today.  Since this process can take up to a billion years from start to finish, I observe young stars at different stages of stellar evolution and attempt to piece together each stage to understand the full process.


2) What brought you to RIT for your graduate studies?

One reason that attracted me to RIT was the high professor-to-student ratio which ensured I get time with my advisor to discuss research.  I was also interested that the astronomy program (astrophysical sciences and technology) offered many opportunities to take imaging science courses as electives.  Having taken courses in imaging science has better prepared me for life after grad school whether it be in academia or for working in industry. If you take enough classes, you can even obtain a masters degree in imaging science while working toward your Ph.D. in astrophysics.


3) What's been your best experience so far?

My best experience as a grad student at RIT has been winning observing time on telescopes.  From an early stage in my graduate career my advisor encouraged me to pursue more observations relevant to my research.  He was very helpful in helping me write research proposals and after writing so many I eventually learned what works and what doesn't work.  Now that I am graduating I feel confident I can write successful research proposals on my own.


4) What do you most enjoy about Rochester?

Rochester is a great city full of things to do but sometimes you'll need to ask around to find out which places are best. I particularly enjoy the restaurants and bars located in downtown Rochester and the Park avenue area.  Every summer there are festivals celebrating different events and/or cultures which can be a lot of fun as well.


5) What are your plans for after graduate school?

I have recently accepted a postdoctoral research fellowship in Santiago, Chile with the Millennial ALMA Disks (MAD) group at the Universidad de Chile. I will be continuing my research on star and planet formation and trying to survive on my limited knowledge of Spanish.


6) What trait do you find most necessary to succeed in graduate school?

I believe passion is the most necessary trait to succeed in graduate school. Grad school is hard work and without a passion for astronomy one may not see the benefit of working hard to help solve astrophysical problems. In some cases, research may not be as difficult but can still be very tedious.  It can be easy to lose patience if you have no passion about your research.


7) Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program or someone considering graduate studies in astronomy?

Yes!  I personally believe a Ph.D in astrophysics is a great degree to pursue. While there are differing opinions, I believe that a Ph.D. in astrophysics will make you quite employable whether you stay in academia or pursue a job in the industry.  Anyone considering pursing a this Ph.D. should understand that the current job market for academics in astronomy (faculty and professors) is VERY competitive. That means it may be very difficult to find a job as a tenure-track professor.  I encourage those who wish to purse a Ph.D. to research the job market and determine what skills you will need so that you can give yourself the best chance for success after graduation.

I would also like to encourage writing research proposals and research papers as much as possible.  Sometimes it can be easy to get too involved with a project and lose sight of your long term goals (i.e., getting a job after graduation).  Always strive to work hard and make yourself as competitive as possible for when you graduate. It is also important to collaborate with other astronomers (not just your advisor) as they can provide valuable contacts after graduation.  If you are considering leaving academia and pursuing the industry after grad school then try and use your research to also build skills valuable to companies. 


You can find Dave's personal webpage here.