Leading this week (and starting our switch to updating on Mondays), we have 6th year grad student Jim Davenport!
• Who are you and where are you from?
I’m Jim, currently a 6th year grad student in the Astro department here at UW.
I grew up in Washington, and went to college at UW, studying Physics and Astronomy. When I graduated with my Bachelors I wanted to go to grad school, but was rejected from all of my schools. Looking back, I wouldn’t have admitted me either! It sounds cheesy, but while this rejection was emotionally challenging, it made me a much stronger student. I finally got admitted to a masters-only program at San Diego State University, and after spending 2 years in California I moved back to UW to pursue a PhD.
• How did you become interested in Astronomy?
Growing up I had a constant interest in space and science. Star Trek was (and still is) my favorite TV/movie franchise. In high school I flipped burgers, and paid my way to attend Space Camp. At 18 I desperately wanted to be an astronaut, so when I first went to college I knew I was going to be an Aerospace Engineer. Of course, 18 year old me quickly discovered a dislike (and/or no talent) for engineering, and my college grades reflected this. I was doing terribly in my intro Physics classes too. I meanwhile had taken an intro astronomy course that was my first (and for a long while only) A grade. Once I declared astronomy as my major, things started to “click”.
• If you’re an astronomer, what do you study?
Broadly I am interested in the history of our Galaxy, and the story of our cosmic origins. In particular I enjoy studying stars… binary stars, clusters of stars, huge survey databases of stars, or even just directed observation of a single star. Stars are the best tracer of the Galaxy, like studying forests using individual trees. Each study, from single stars to ensemble statistics throughout the Galaxy, reveals different aspects of the Milky Way’s history.
Currently I am working mostly with data from Kepler, and I hope to continue working on space-based time-domain astronomy (for stars, of course!) for many years to come.
• What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?
The Sun and the Moon are almost exactly the same apparent size in the sky. This is of course a coincidence so far as we know… but it helped fuel the earliest religions and stories of our origins.
• What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?
Coffee is pretty damn rad too.
• What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?
Since 2012 I have been writing a blog about data, visualization, and science [http://www.ifweassume.com/]. It has been a wonderful hobby, and helped open many interesting doors. I don’t generally write about astronomy, so it enables me to learn about new fields or sources of data.
• Is there anything else you’d like the public to know about you?
Remember: everyone is born a scientist, curious about the world. Math, logic, and science are not mysterious disciplines that only the elite or over-educated understand. They belong to the world.