Former DSFP Graduate Student Fellows Join the Faculty Ranks

Four former fellows in the Data Science Fellowship Program (DSFP) have been hired as assistant professors in 2023! The DSFP is a graduate training program founded by Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz and collaborators in 2016 via funding from LSST Discovery Alliance (formerly known as LSSTC) to train the next generation of astro data scientists in advance of the data deluge from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). Training fellows in annual cohorts that participate in the program for two years, the DSFP focuses on teaching essential skills at the intersection of statistics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data visualization, software engineering and astronomy. 

Dr. Adam Miller, assistant professor at Northwestern University and the current Director of the DSFP says, “One of our primary goals in the DSFP is to help train the next generation of leaders in astro data science. We are incredibly excited to see that within just a few years of establishing the program several former fellows have become faculty with a focus on Rubin-related research.” Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, Founding Director of the DSFP, offered a heartfelt congratulations, saying “We are so proud of Drs. Shipp, Gonzales, Fields, and Amon, who in their time in the DSFP helped bring the spirit of collaborative, interdisciplinary learning that enables great science. We look forward not only to their future research insights, but to their influence on the subsequent generations of students who will learn from them.”

LSST-DA (Discovery Alliance) recently caught up with each of the former fellows to learn about their future plans. 

Nora Shipp (DSFP cohort 1)

Dr. Shipp, an NSF postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University who will start as an assistant professor at the University of Washington in the fall of 2024, studies stellar streams. Stellar streams are the remnants of satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way galaxy that have been stretched and disrupted by tidal forces from the Milky Way’s gravity. Disrupted satellite galaxies provide critical insight into dark matter and the physics governing galaxy formation. Using observations from recent astronomical surveys, Dr. Shipp and collaborators have discovered a complex population of tidal remnants orbiting the Milky Way. Dr Shipp says, “In the coming years, I am excited to use these observations, in combination with cosmological simulations, in order to test our models of small-scale galaxy formation, measure the structure and assembly history of the Milky Way, uncover the lowest mass dark matter halos, and constrain the particle nature of dark matter.”

When asked if the DSFP played a role in advancing her career, Dr. Shipp responded, “Absolutely! I learned a lot of very valuable technical skills from the DSFP that have definitely benefited my work with large surveys like the Dark Energy Survey and Gaia. The DSFP also provided me with a great network of peers and mentors that has supported me throughout my career.”

Dr. Shipp is looking forward to using data from Rubin/LSST to study tidal remnants of the Milky Way, discover new stellar streams, and to learn about the properties of dark matter.

Eileen Gonzales (DSFP cohort 2)

Dr. Gonzales, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, utilizes observations and models to study the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and exoplanets, planets in solar systems that orbits stars other than the Sun. This research uses a computational technique known as atmospheric retrievals whereby models are generated  to match observations of the brown dwarf or exoplanet to determine their chemical makeup, cloud properties, and thermal profile.

“While participating in the DSFP I was exposed to Bayesian statistics in my first [training] session. Little did I know that a few years down the road I would switch my research into theory where the basis of my work uses Bayesian Statistics. Having been exposed to it during the DSFP sessions made it more familiar the second time around. Additionally, the network of people I have met through the DSFP has been so helpful in getting career advice and in making new  research collaborations,” says Dr. Gonzales.

Carl Fields (DSFP cohort 2)

Dr. Fields is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona where he is building the next generation of computational simulations to understand massive stars and the explosions they produce at the end of their lives. 

According to Dr. Fields, “The DSFP has advanced my career in many ways. Two of the most important ways have been the community building across cohorts and  developing my identity and expertise as an astrophysicist. Together these have and continue to help progress my career.”

Over the rest of the decade, Dr. Fields plans to “build a connection between the state-of-the-art simulations my group will produce and the transient events observed by Rubin. I am already working towards building sustainable collaboration between theory and observations with Rubin for years to come.”

Alex Amon (DSFP cohort 2)

As an assistant professor at Princeton University, Dr. Amon studies weak gravitational lensing, a powerful probe of the distribution of matter in the universe, the nature of dark matter, and Einstein’s General Relativity theory of gravity. Weak lensing measures subtle changes in the shapes of galaxies due to the presence of dark matter that are  difficult to observe and which can only be captured by the most precise astronomical surveys, such as Rubin/LSST. 

While Dr. Amon always knew she wanted to study weak-lensing cosmology and large astronomical data sets, but, when it came to computer programming she was largely self-taught and “had no formal training or classes in writing software in python, or any of the topics we were lucky to learn [about] at the DSFP,” she says. 

Moving forward she will continue to work on established surveys, such as the Dark Energy Survey, while also preparing for LSST in order to create the most precise large scale lensing analysis that has ever been produced.

The DSFP is led by Northwestern/CIERA. It was established with funding from LSST-DA, and ongoing support is provided by the Brinson Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Congratulations Professors Shipp, Gonzales, Fields, and Amon!