Featured Graduate Student: Fall 2015
Dennis is a Ph.D. candidate in Astrophysical Sciences and Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He speaks here about himself and gives some advice to other aspiring astrophysicists.
Through most of my adolescence in Florida I had broad interests; even attending schools with specialized programs in the arts. It was not until applying for college that I decided to pursue a PhD in astrophysics. Despite a lack active astrophysics research, I attended the University of South Florida on a full ride where I obtained a B.S in physics. Since arriving at RIT in the summer of 2012 I have been working under the supervision of Dr. Manuela Campanelli on gas dynamics in the context of supermassive black hole binaries.
1) How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?
In 1915 Albert Einstein published his theory of gravity, general relativity. This theory has been remarkably successful but remains untested in the strong field regime, such as merging black holes, where some of its most extreme predictions occur. My research focuses on the simulation of binary black holes in their astrophysical environment. By simulating disks of gas orbiting the black holes we hope to be able to make direct predictions of how these events will appear when observed through modern telescopes.
2) What brought you to RIT for your graduate studies?
I came to RIT primarily for the opportunity to work in the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation (CCRG). The CCRG offered many research opportunities in relativity such as gravitational wave data analysis, numerical relativity, and relativistic astrophysics. Additionally, by selecting RIT I was not locked into a particular topic. Had I decided not to continue in relativity, AST provides many options in observational astrophysics and instrumentation.
3) What's been your best experience so far?
My best experience so far has been traveling to the Texas Symposium in December 2013 where I was able to present my work and listen to many great talks, including Nobel Laureates. I was also introduced to many well-known relativists such as Ted Newman and had lunch with Charles Misner.
3) What do you most enjoy about Rochester?
Growing up and going to school in the Tampa Bay area of Florida there were very few parks with access to nature and I was forced to live in a city. The thing I enjoy most about Rochester is that I have options to live in smaller towns and only have to be in a city environment when I choose. Additionally, the Rochester area provides easy access to parks with hiking/running trails.
4) What are your plans for after graduate school?
I’m currently planning to apply for both post doctoral and private sector positions. Based on the offers I receive I’ll make a decision then whether or not to pursue the traditional academic career path in astrophysics.
5) What trait do you find most necessary to succeed in graduate school?
A genuine passion for the topic of your graduate studies is a must. Graduate school is a lot of hard work and without this passion one could easily become burnt out with the inevitable setbacks that come with doing something that has never been done before in your research.
6) Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program or someone considering graduate studies in astronomy?
While graduate school requires long hours and dedication, I would recommend setting aside some “me time”. It can be really easy to get wrapped up in your projects and allow them to consume your life. Maintaining a healthy balance between work life and social life will ultimately increase your productivity.
Finally, anyone pursuing a graduate degree in astronomy should know that the job market for faculty positions is highly competitive. So I would advise keeping an eye to how the skills acquired in graduate school could be applied in the private sector.