Welcoming the largest class of graduate students in PSD history

September 25, 2020

This autumn, courses begin for the largest incoming class of Master's and PhD students in the history of the Physical Sciences Division. We will welcome a total of 931 students, and our three largest departments—Chemistry, Computer Science, and Physics—will see a combined total of 66 additional students. Through the PSD Fellowship Challenge, we are are raising $3.6M to assist in funding this incoming class. 

Meet some of the talented scholars who will be joining our mission to advance and define new fields of discovery in the physical and mathematical sciences. Join us in supporting them as they begin an extraordinary journey.

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago?

I am excited to interact with experts in my field and become one myself. I am also excited to work with world class scholars.

Why did you choose UChicago?

When I visited campus back in mid-March, I was very impressed. I found an incredible student-faculty ratio and researchers studying a wide variety of topics, often doing collaborative or interdisciplinary work. 

What is one of your goals for your time here?

Besides obvious goals like doing well in my coursework and doing quality research, I would like to learn to use the many resources available here at UChicago, like the supercomputing capabilities.

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago? 

I am very excited about the courses I will take this upcoming year, the seminars I will join throughout my time here, and the chances I will be given to teach courses or mentor other students. I am excited in general for the activities and experiences I will participate in with the math community at UChicago, maybe also with the Latino or international student community! 

My academic interests are yet diverse as of today; I like graph theory and knot theory, from combinatorics and topology respectively. In that sense, I am excited to find my path for the coming years, to be proactive in discovering what subfield I will be passionate about studying and doing research in.

Why did you choose UChicago? 

I really enjoyed meeting the department, and felt welcome there. When I visited during the Open House, faculty and other graduate students were friendly and answered many of the questions that I asked, together with other prospective students. I thought that It would be great having a chance to learn and grow together with this not only brilliant but also caring community.  

What is one of your goals for your time here? 

To grow as integrally as I can as a mathematician. For instance, to strengthen my mathematical knowledge, learn how to look for and find new ideas or answers. I also want to become more fluent not only in asking questions or expressing what I don't understand, but also in sharing what I understand confidently so I can pass on knowledge and experience to people who might want to do math. There is a long way for me to go in order to reach that goal, but I am going to do all I can!

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago?

With the help of evolution, nature has been an astonishing engineer because it has created machinery that conducts crucial biochemical functions for sustaining life. This referred machinery corresponds to proteins built from a plethora of amino acids encoded by genes. And now, with the exponential growth of genome sequencing technology, today's scientists are equipped with an exhaustive amount of protein sequence data from many organisms and species. Until recent discovery, from this massive amount of protein sequence data, there lie sequence encodings of high-order rules that allow assembling proteins in the lab with conformation and relevant function. 

Research that I am fascinated about is determining these rules with artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning, and implementing them to engineer synthetic human-made proteins with the desired function, leading to promising biotechnologies and directly impacting a wide variety of economic markets. As a first-year graduate student, I am excited to collaborate with Drs. Andrew Ferguson and Rama Ranganathan at this interface of artificial intelligence and protein engineering.

Why did you choose UChicago?

Not only am I conducting my PhD thesis under outstanding professors in their respective fields, Andrew Ferguson and Rama Ranganathan, I can also reap the advantages of the centers UChicago offers like the Center for Data and Computing. Not only will this intellectual hub have a direct impact within my line of research, but the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will also provide me with essential knowledge from a variety of industry experts and experienced entrepreneurs.

What is one of your goals for time here?

One of my many goals during my time at UChicago is to have a successful collaboration with Drs. Ranganathan and Ferguson, unraveling the secrets that nature implemented to successfully design proteins with novel data-driven methods and engineer human-made proteins with these synthetic sequences for industrial use.

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago? 

I'm excited to explore research applications of statistics, particularly related to environmental statistics and machine learning. Aside from research, I'm looking forward to joining the club volleyball team!

Why did you choose UChicago? 

I chose UChicago as the place to pursue my graduate studies because I thought that no matter what area of statistics research I eventually decide to pursue for my PhD dissertation, I would be able to find faculty mentors on campus to guide me in the research process. 

What is one of your goals for time here? 

One of my goals for my time at UChicago is to talk with and learn from as many people as I can while I'm here. UChicago has a diverse student body with people from around the world, so I'm looking forward to hearing about others' thoughts, opinions, and experiences. 

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago?

I am excited to have the opportunity to work on particle physics research both through analyzing data and participating in building and maintenance of instrumentation. It is really important to me that I am able to share in work at all stages of an experiment, which is not always possible when collaborating on large particle physics experiments. Between work being done by physicists at UChicago and the university’s proximity to experiments at Fermilab, being a graduate student at UChicago will undoubtedly provide me with this opportunity.

Why did you choose UChicago?

UChicago stood out to me as a place with highly engaged researchers of all levels and across all disciplines excited to work and learn from each other. All of the students and professors I talked with before accepting my offer were genuinely excited about their own research, involved in the greater UChicago research community, and had a healthy work/life balance. 

What is one of your goals for time here?

During my time at UChicago, I hope to gain confidence in guiding my own research within a large experiment. I am also deeply grateful for all of the research mentors I have had and continue to have. I hope to pass along some of what I’ve learned from them to younger students as I become a more senior graduate student.

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago?

My focus at UChicago is in the realm of astrophysics and cosmology, where the former seeks to understand astronomical objects, like galaxies, and the latter utilizes this information to better infer details on the nature of the Universe. I am looking forward to simply being a part of this field as we collectively delve further into some of the most exciting advancements in recent years; advancements that may potentially topple old theories and hint at new ones! 

Why did you choose UChicago?

I was fortunate to have had a successful grad school application season, and thus was spoilt for choice with offers from multiple stellar research institutions. I, however, also have very strong interests in research-adjacent activities, such as teaching, outreach, and science communication. UChicago is uniquely poised to provide me exemplary resources in all these additional spheres, and thus can allow me to grow multi-dimensionally. This is why I strongly felt I could make a home here.

What is one of your goals for time here?

To not follow a pre-determined path, and to instead allow myself to meander through the many opportunities provided by the University. UChicago grants me the luxury of adventuring to rediscover my current interests and to forge new ones, and so I wish to take full advantage of this.

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago?

I am looking forward to studying individual and collective cell dynamics. I am most excited to undergo theoretical research and learn some new experimental techniques to test these models. Additionally, I cannot wait to learn more about the University, build community, and participate in outreach opportunities.

Why did you choose UChicago?

I chose UChicago because of the amount and types of research opportunities that are available to me here. The science being done at the University is interesting, applicable, and interdisciplinary, so I cannot wait to be a part of it. For the program in Biophysical Sciences, I get to work with two advisors that can be from different fields and form a research project that connects their two labs. That philosophy of scientific research is what I am most looking forward to.

What is one of your goals for time here?

My goal is to become an expert in the subfield of my research and understand it well enough to be able to apply that knowledge more broadly. Whether that be towards medical or engineering applications, or towards understanding and figuring out more scientific questions, I not only want to gain a very deep knowledge of my subfield, but also apply the knowledge from my research.

What are you excited to study, research, or do as a graduate student at UChicago?

I'm interested in intersections of mathematics and theoretical computer science. In particular, I really enjoy work in optimization, spectral graph theory, and high-dimensional data analysis, but I also know the field is constantly generating new and unexpected problems so I try to keep an open mind!

Why did you choose UChicago?

I was struck by the friendliness and openness of both students and faculty in my department. Collaboration is one of my favorite parts of research, and I wanted to find a place where people could bounce ideas off each other. On top of that, I feel the CCAM exemplifies the intersectional approach to research which I enjoy. I think recent trends in data science and theoretical machine learning show us that perspectives from many fields—including mathematics, statistics, and dynamical systems—can complement theoretical computer science, and I think the CCAM reflects and is conducive to that kind of work.

What is one of your goals for time here?

I am excited to spend the next few years developing a coherent and directed path of research experience, as I think many incoming graduate students are. I personally find that one of the most difficult parts of the research process is figuring out the right question to ask. One of my goals is to build my intuition for finding and phrasing problems. Answering them will be a different challenge!

Why did you choose UChicago PSD for your PhD?

I chose UChicago's Physics PhD program for a lot of reasons. While UChicago is a top 10 worldwide university as a whole, in physics, and in my interested subfields of physics on many ranking systems out there, UChicago Physics as a good place for to pursue my PhD was backed up by physicists (such as my undergrad advisors), whose opinions and guidance I trusted.

My personal experience in the MSPSD program showed me that there are far more kind and smart people here at all levels, including my peers, professors, and advisors, than their opposite. I've heard rumors that at universities of this level sometimes there can be a cut-throat environment, something that I used to naively think was better for growth. I was glad to experience UChicago as collaborative and nurturing.

Graduate student organizations, such as GRIT or the UChicago Physics Working Group on Anti-Racism, demonstrate that my peers here do attempt to learn about and actively try to change the status quo of societal issues for the better.

While UChicago did not have exactly the type of research I loved in undergrad, reviewing my research direction had its unexpected benefits because it forced me to think more about my values and what fulfills me in life. Further, UChicago is thankfully strong in the areas of physics and other related subjects that I was generally interested in, so even though I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do initially, I have since realized that UChicago has the resources and interdisciplinary flexibility to meet these interests.

On the less academic side, I wanted to do a PhD in a big city with good public transportation, a cold winter, and cultural resources that are important to some of my identities as a gay, Vietnamese-, and Nicaraguan-American. Chicago thankfully has this, at least to some extent, with its demographics and/or areas such as Boystown (gay focused), West Argyle Street Historic District (Vietnamese focused), and Pilsen (Latinx focused).

What will you study?

At the moment, I am continuing research in condensed matter theory under the advising of Professor Peter Littlewood, Dr. Jason Kaye (Flatiron Institute), and Dr. Alexey Galda. Currently, I'm taking on projects involving writing and utilizing simulations of modified Gross-Pitaevskii equations for the purpose of investigating interesting physics relating to exceptional points and polariton Bose-Einstein condensates, as well as a separate project relating to quantum tunneling. 

Aside from this, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be able to utilize these next number of years to investigate questions in physics and other sciences that I've thought quite a bit about throughout the years and want to know or attempt to investigate the answers to, but did not previously have the time or resources to do so. These questions are in the realms of quantum computing, quantum gravity, heliophysics, quantum entanglement, cosmology, relativity, and more. I'm looking forward to doing a deeper dive into these topics, regardless of if I choose to do research relating to these questions in the future or just learn more about current knowledge on them. These questions range from just curiosity in weird phenomena, to more pressing issues that may have relation to things like climate change, as well as things relating to the overall fate or history of the universe.

What will be the impact of your fellowship?

It is my hope that the impact of this fellowship challenge will be to help further enable a diverse and talented group of scholars to investigate questions that are of great importance to humanity and to increase knowledge across all fields, in a just way. 

I know personally I have greatly benefited from the support that I've received here at UChicago, such as through the PSD Pathway Scholarship, which provided me funding and advising throughout my MSPSD program. Given that I came from a low-income background (as well as other underrepresented identities), receiving a scholarship to do a graduate degree here, as well as the opportunity to continue on to my PhD here, was quite worldview changing to me, in terms of realizing that I actually could pursue these topics that are both extremely fascinating and fulfilling to me, and that hopefully will have some impact on humanity. Although the inner capability to pursue these topics was to some extent already there, the decision for UChicago to invest in me and for me to invest back had emboldened me to take greater strides towards such initiatives, and has likely done the same for many others that UChicago has admitted. 

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