October 17, 2022
Dhayaa Anbajagane was born in Western Pennsylvania and then spent his entire childhood in the coastal city of Madras in India. He earned a bachelor’s in physics across the lake at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has spent two years as a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics where he uses observations made by large telescopes to study the initial state of the Universe and its subsequent evolution into what we see on the sky today. He says most of his time is spent exploring how to best use these observations to answer questions about the nature of our Universe. We spoke to him about his experiences below.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
For my research topic I was set on doing “survey science”—using observations from large telescopes gathered into surveys to study our Universe and the physics of the objects within it, like galaxies, clusters, cosmic filaments, and voids. The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UChicago has a storied history in pioneering the development of astronomical surveys. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which began at UChicago, is widely considered the first big survey and is looked to as a template even now. The department continues to lead multiple current and future large surveys. This survey science specialization is even more true when including efforts by colleagues at Fermilab and Argonne National Lab. So naturally, this department was a fantastic match for me.
What are you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago?
There are two things I am especially happy about. The first is how many new scientists I’ve managed to connect and collaborate with, in part due to the many department colloquia and seminars that regularly bring in experts. That, coupled with the plethora of local experts and those at the neighboring national labs, provided me with a heightened awareness of the current status of my field. I’ve joined conversations about where we are and where we are going, which has enabled me to independently discover and craft a long-term research program for my PhD.
The second is being able to help new researchers come into our field. The UChicago undergraduates I’ve met have all been phenomenal in both how curious they are and how eager they are to learn new things. So, I’ve been especially happy to be able to help them acclimate to this field, to the science we pursue, and to the way we approach problems. It has been particularly rewarding to see these students grow from uninitiated astrophysicists and cosmologists to researchers I would gladly call my peers.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I spend a lot of my non-research hours walking around random parts of Hyde Park, especially the lakefront! And for most of my waking hours, I’m always listening to music of all different types.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I’ll stay on the academic track and pursue a postdoctoral position either at a research institution or a national lab.
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
The department as a whole is very collaborative in nature, everyone talks to everyone, and provides nearly daily opportunities to do so (at local colloquia, journal clubs, seminars). My current research program for my PhD is a direct result of the many conversations I have had with department members over the last two years.
Then there are also many people who provide generous help on various things—from the custodial staff to the admin staff, to the professors and the Chair. The size of the department and the grad student cohort also allow it to be a lot more personable, where everyone gets to know one another, and so there is a strong sense of community amongst us. Such aspects make pursuing a PhD a more fun, unique experience and ensure it doesn’t feel isolating.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
There are many things to learn about UChicago (and talking to people here is the best way to find those details!), but one distinguishing factor that can be harder to see (especially as a newer/incoming student) is that the science you can do is not just at UChicago. The Chicagoland area has institutions like FermiLab, Argonne National Lab, Northwestern creating a vibrant, much larger academic community that students can easily plug into, greatly expanding their resources.
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
My personal belief is that my background or experience does not uniquely prepare me. We each have our unique stories, and those stories diversify the communities we are in and the perspectives the community holds. I contribute by bringing my own unique story to this community, and by acknowledging those stories brought by my peers. The amalgamation of these experiences guides a community to change the way it interprets itself and the world around it. So, my preparation for contributing to this environment is the fact that I have my own story (as do all my peers) and by my willingness to share it and draw from it, I contribute in shaping the community’s broader perspectives.