Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Scholar Spotlight: Derek Holman

This is the second of five blog posts focusing on our 2016 summer scholars. This week we focus on Derek Holman, who is a student in our TAURUS summer program at UT Austin working on understanding galaxy mergers in rich cluster environments. Derek is an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (the other UT!) where he is a dual major in Mechanical Engineering and Physics.  His advisor, Dr. Chao-Ling Hung interviewed Derek for the TAURUS blog. 

CLH: Tell me about yourself. What’s your story?

DH: I was born in Indiana and then moved to Tennessee. I’ve always been interested in things, especially Astronomy. I got a telescope when I was really young, and always try to keep up with that. I’ve always been interested in all kinds of science.

CLH: Do you think your telescope inspired your interest in Astronomy?

DH: Yes, definitely. Even without a telescope, obviously the stars are really beautiful and that allured me initially. And after having the telescope, seeing Jupiter and the Moon for the first time, that kind of latched me on.

CLH: What are your future and long-term career goals?

DH: Of course it’s really shifting ground right now as far as the distant future. I just want to continue my education. My two majors, mechanical engineering and physics, are not exactly the same but both are things I want to follow. I’d say graduate school maybe for Astronomy or Astrophysics. Eventually I want to do research as well as maybe industry jobs. Definitely more school, also some work, and eventually research.

CLH: Can you talk a little bit about your two majors and what do you like about them?

DH: I did mechanical engineering for a couple reasons. I’ve always been taking things apart as a kid and I’ve always been interested in how things work. I really, really like the fact that mechanical engineering is preparing me to take bigger things apart and learning more about how these things work. Physics I added more recently, because I know I’d like to continue my education and get into graduate school. I want to apply them both together as much as possible.

CLH: Why do you want to do TAURUS now, and how would that help you reach your career goals?

DH: I saw TAURUS as exactly what I want. You learn things in school, but it helps a lot to actually see what professionals do and what your job would be like. So, it gives an opportunity to explore and confirm if this is what I want to do, and will help refine my goals in the future.

CLH: In that respect, what would success in TAURUS program look like to you?

DH: Mainly getting experiences but also learning a lot more. In school, especially undergrad, I’m not getting specific knowledge, I’m getting vague [idea], this is how you do this. I feel like, success for me would be a step closer of being specialized in something that I care about. Of course finishing the research would be the goal too but it’s more about learning.

CLH: Do you have any previous research or lab work experience? What do you like and dislike about those experiences?

DH: I don’t have research experiences but I’ve done some lab work. I’ve always been almost better at more hands-on stuff than the book material per se. I like it a lot. Like in the E&M lab, building circuits and building things like that.

CLH: Anything you don’t like about them?

DH:  Hmm… not really. Of course I don’t have too much experience. But if there’s something that’s difficult sometimes it’ll be answering things I don’t know. Because if I just don’t know I don’t know. I have to find it out, be more resourceful and figure out how to get the answers.

CLH: How do you learn best? (e.g., hands-on experience, reading literature about a topic, verbal explanations, process diagrams, etc.)? What is the most useful kind of assistance your mentor can provide?

DH: I think the fact that this is fairly one-on-one is pretty helpful. Whenever someone is telling me “you” something but not just the whole classroom, I’m much more likely to retain and learn from it. More hands-on and also seeing figures, especially someone who made it to describe it, that’d be helpful.

CLH: What challenges and obstacles have you faced in your school and career? How have you overcome these challenges?

DH: I went to a magnet academic middle school and on to academic high school and they really challenged me. But that’s what I need, I need to be challenged. But beyond that, I was challenged by the fact that the college is expensive, it’s very expensive, so I’ve been working through most of it, trying to keep full-time classes and two majors. I think that I’ve been extremely driven by my passion. So this step toward physics, but not just mechanical engineering, has definitely made me more passionate. I do much better whenever I’m passionate about something.

CLH: Is there anything that you’re particularly proud of?

DH: Being driven by what I’m passionate about. Definitely this. Also just what I do in college. I work in an observatory, just volunteer work. I really enjoy teaching people who are curious about Astronomy. I’m very proud of that because you can see the look on their face whenever you tell them something, and they think it’s interesting. I like that. In college, I’m proud of college. Nowadays it’s more expected to go to college than the previous generations. But I’m a first generation college student. Being the first one who goes to college in my family, I’m pretty proud of that.

CLH: Can you give some more information about the volunteer work at the observatory?

DH:  It’s put on by my campus physics department, most people who volunteer are physics students. We’ve got a planetarium and also a telescope. Every Sunday night in the fall and spring we have an outreach event and everybody is welcome to come. It’s free. We spend about an hour at the planetarium, and depending on the number of people who come, we also have a lecture. Once it gets dark, we take them out and show things in the telescope. There’s a lot of light pollution in the area, but it’s amazing to see the look on people’s faces who haven’t seen anything through a telescope before, and they see the colors of Jupiter.

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