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Ava P

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of Chicago


Physics, astrophysics, galaxy evolution, observational astrophysics, computational astrophysics


I'm a PhD candidate in UChicago's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, working on observational extragalactic astrophysics (focused on star formation in low luminosity dwarf galaxies). During my undergraduate at Northwestern University in Physics & Astronomy and Earth & Planetary Sciences, my research was focused on stellar, time-domain astrophysics: predominantly simulating the eclipsing binary yield of the Vera Rubin Observatory, as well as examining transient and variable signals at X-ray wavelengths. Over the years I've also dabbled in high energy astroparticle physics and, very briefly, geomicrobiology. After college, I started my PhD at Yale University before transferring to UChicago (with candidacy) to move closer to family amid the (ongoing) pandemic; it's a real boon that the school that graduated Hubble and Sagan was so close to my aging parents! Despite my zealous commitment to physics, astronomy, and academia, I did spend a couple of years in Los Angeles, learning from the best of the best in the music industry. While music supervision didn't remain the fit it had seemed when I entered USC's Thornton School of Music after my junior year of high school, music itself is still an incredible passion of mine, and I'm always happy to find out about new artists (or soundtracks!) to enjoy.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.


One of the fantastic things about astronomy is the sheer amount of data that exists publicly. Whether amateur databases like AAVSO or ready-to-download Hubble archives, there's quite a bit of research that can be done without ever proposing for telescope time. There are a number of options for projects involving existing data, but to provide concrete examples: • Without much specialized software, it is possible to study stellar explosions at multiple wavelengths. This could be as simple as plotting light curves of the same event across the electromagnetic spectrum (and doing a dive into the literature about that class of event) or as complicated as trying to comprehensively review a class of explosion and discern population statistics (also involving a dive into the literature). • Alternatively, if there's interest in gaining familiarity with some specialized astronomical software, there are myriad data available from Hubble, SDSS, ... that can be used for analysis of a single galaxy or a population of galaxies. This project could look something like trying to better understand the stellar populations (via a surface brightness profile, photometry, ... it depends on the choice of galaxy) involved.


As with many STEM fields today, astronomy is very computationally intense (for simulation, as well as data analysis). For a beginner, a good place to start might be the interface of observation and theory: fitting or very simply modeling data. This would also be a potential later stage of an observational project pending scope and interest. For those with more coding experience, a simple N-body simulation is a nice place to start astronomically. This could look like just integrating the orbit of the moon around the earth, or could be extended to more of the solar system.

Coding skills

python, C

Teaching experience

I have a specific interest in pedagogy so I've always sought out teaching opportunities. As an undergraduate, I worked as a tutor for student-athletes (N'Cat tutor through Northwestern Athletics) in math, physics, astronomy, earth science, and music and served in a TA-like capacity for the general physics sequence, leading supplemental discussion sections (as Peer-Guided Study Group facilitator) and offering in-class support (as a Learning Assistant). During graduate school I've been a Teaching Fellow for four semesters (for Planets & Stars, Introduction to Cosmology, and Research Methods in Astrophysics), a Teaching Assistant with the Yale Summer Program in Astrophysics (summers 2019 and 2020), mentoring exceptional high school seniors in their month-long research projects and aiding with coursework. From 2020 to 2022, I worked as a Lead Instructor for the Yale Young Global Scholars program, developing and teaching astrophysics seminars, which as one of the many programs to go virtual in the pandemic, offered terrific insight into successfully engaging and motivating students over Zoom. In 2022, I earned my Certificate of College Teaching Preparation from the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. I am currently a Graduate Fellow of the Chicago Center for Teaching & Learning, developing and delivering programming and instruction in pedagogy to academics at the University of Chicago.



Northwestern University
BA Bachelor of Arts (2018)
Physics & Astronomy, Earth & Planetary Science
Yale University
MS Master of Science (2022)
Yale University
MPhil Master of Philosophy (2022)
University of Chicago
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Astronomy and Astrophysics


"Ava was super helpful in answering any questions I had and providing me with resources so I could gain the necessary knowledge to make progress on my project. Although I took on an ambitious and challenging project, she guided me through the whole process and I am ultimately really proud of what I was able to accomplish."


"Polygence was a great experience that kept me motivated throughout the pandemic. Ava taught me a lot about what to expect for the field I want to go into."


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