Back In Orbit

Scott Gaudi.After receiving his PhD in astronomy from Ohio State in 2000, Scott Gaudi left to accept two of his field’s most sought-after postdoctoral fellowships. First, Gaudi was a Hubble Fellow and member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

Then, Gaudi was a Menzel postdoctoral fellow in the Theoretical Astrophysics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Their completion made him prime recruiting material for virtually any astronomy department in the country.

But Gaudi’s sights, and heart, were set on coming back to Ohio State.

"I always knew I wanted to be an astronomer, even when I was little, but it was Ohio State’s graduate program that made me an astronomer," Gaudi said.

Ironically, Ohio State wasn’t even on Gaudi’s radar for graduate work, but his undergraduate advisor at Michigan State University urged him to apply.

“Fortunately, I knew enough to listen to my elders. So, I applied and came for a visit. I spent two hours talking to (astronomy professor) Andy Gould. By the time it was over, I knew what graduate school should be. No one else had ever been so interested in my education.”

Here, Gaudi found there was no such thing as passive learning. He was actively engaged as an apprentice in the practice of astronomy and was exhilarated by the opportunity to figure things out for himself.

“In my first two years, I wrote and published five papers, and another 10 before I graduated. I could not have been as successful anywhere else. The participatory process of learning and discovery spoke to my soul. There are no barriers between students and faculty; everyone is immersed in the process of astronomy research.”

Super-earth orbiting a red dwarf star 9,000 light years away.

An artist’s conception of the discovery of a super-earth orbiting a red dwarf star 9,000 light years away detected by a search for microlensing events. Image courtesy of David A. Aguilar (CFA)

But it wasn’t until he left and had more context that he fully realized “how special this place is and how different. There are very few programs like Ohio State’s anywhere in the country.”

Gaudi returned in 2006 and is fully engaged in the process of making discoveries and making astronomers. In 2009, he won his profession’s top prize for young astronomers; and in September 2011, NSF’s CAREER Award, given to the nation’s most promising early-career scientists.

An associate professor and director of astronomy’s graduate studies program, Gaudi continues a tradition that makes graduate education the primary priority of the faculty. “We pay attention. I can tell you what every graduate student is doing and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

“I feel amazingly lucky to have been able to come back here and be in this environment where the goal is success for everyone.”