In January, “Rising Star Month,” our eyes look around us and recognize up-and-comers, those shining lights who show much promise, individuals of great potential, ascending on the horizon. One such outstanding individual is Dr. Scott Gaudi, assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at the Ohio State University. As the leader of a team of international astronomers, Gaudi received worldwide media attention in discovering a solar system similar to our own. He was also awarded the Helen B. Warner Prize for “significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy” by the American Astronomical Society. In addition, he has been named one of the “10 Rising Stars of Astronomy” by Astronomy Magazine and “one of the 20 scientists to watch in the next 20 years” by DISCOVER magazine. Ascending from “a rural American kid to professional astronomer,” Dr. Gaudi inspires everyone he meets to reach for the stars. Since January is “Rising Star Month,” here is the 2nd of a two-part interview with Dr. Scott Gaudi.
What advice do you have for current high school students or others interested in science? What advice would you give to someone looking to enter your field of astronomy?
For those students interested in science, I encourage them to look for every opportunity to learn and explore science. Read as much as possible, and keep taking as many science courses as you can handle! If you’re interested in astronomy, and think you may want to be an astronomer for a living, I encourage them to study hard and get excellent grades, so that they can attend a good college and study physics and mathematics.
What do you feel is the most significant or pressing problem in your field?
The most interesting open questions in my field are: How exactly do planets form? How common are solar systems like ours? Are there Earthlike planets orbiting other stars? Do those planets host life? The exciting thing is that we can hope to answer all of these questions within the next 50 years.
What personal challenges have you encountered in your pursuit of science? How did you overcome them?
The most significant challenge I have faced is simply the opposition to success and excellence. Many people are very threatened by people that work hard and want to excel, and will try very hard to cut such people down. Overcoming this is simply a matter of sticking to your principles, and keeping your goals in mind. One thing that I have come to believe is that people are in many ways defined by their opposition, by those obstacles in their path, by those things that daunt them, by those things that try to limit their achievements in whatever way. I’ve encountered many of these obstacles in my life, and discovered that they can be quite plentiful. I’ve found that they can be concrete and tangible, or they can be nebulous and poorly-defined. They can be ideas and thoughts, they can be doctrines or dogmas, or they can even be people, past and present. But regardless of the nature of the obstacle, you can deal with opposition as a rallying point, the thing that makes you rise to the challenge, your personal dramatic struggle. You use things you’ve learned in the past and your ingenuity to work against the opposition, and eventually, through your dedication, persistence, and the belief in your abilities, you overcome the opposition. The end result is that you learn from the experience and build up your arsenal and your bag of tricks. And you define yourself through that struggle and eventual victory: the struggle becomes a trophy documenting the perseverance of your self-worth. The victory is exhilarating and rewarding, and brings with it a constant reminder of your success. It is, in my opinion, precisely what it means to be alive.
What would like to be most remembered for?
I would like to be most remembered for being a kind, generous, good, and moral person. I would also like to be remembered for being a good advisor. In terms of scientific contribution, I would like to be remembered for highlighting the importance of the proper statistical analysis of data, and particular the importance of the proper consideration of selection effects and detection biases in understanding the demographics of exoplanets.
In the video below from the National Science Foundation Scott Gaudi comments on some recent discoveries in astronomy:
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