Women of STEM

A profile series highlighting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Dina Drozdov, Astrophysics PhD Graduate

Dina Drozdov, Astrophysics PhD Graduate

Dina Drozdov, Astrophysics PhD Graduate of Clemson University

Connect with Dina on Instagram @DDROZDO

What was it like being an astrophysics graduate student?

As a graduate student, I had to balance doing research, taking classes, and working at the university. I taught three Astronomy laboratories each semester (each with 20-25 students). As part of these duties, I gave planetarium shows and led weekly observing sessions at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens using two small telescopes.

I am an observational astronomer, so twice a year, I completed an observing run at Kitt Peak National Observatory. My research involved studying Type Ia supernovae over a year after they were discovered (meaning they were faint, and I needed to use the largest telescope on the mountain for my science).

Can you describe a “day in the life”?

A typical day in a fifth year graduate student’s life at Clemson University started with coffee. After arriving at the university, I would prepare my class lecture for the day and make sure all equipment was working properly and all quizzes were ready. Then, I would teach three hours of laboratory (two classes back-to-back).  Afterward, I would grade all of the student’s quizzes and worksheets and input the grades into the system (anywhere from 1-2 hours of work). Then, I would resume working on my research.

As a fifth year graduate student, the main task is to complete all of your research and write it up in your thesis. [The thesis] is a giant document providing all of the background information as to why your research is important and explaining all that you have done in your graduate career. In the end, you will defend your research to your committee, and they will decide your fate.  

What is the coolest part of your job?

The most exciting part of my job was traveling to the telescope. Since the atmosphere distorts the objects in space we want to study from the ground, most telescopes are built on top of mountains. Kitt Peak National Observatory is located up a mountain outside of Tucson, AZ, and the combination of doing what you love in a breathtaking environment made those moments my most cherished.

How did you become interested in astronomy?

I became interested in Astronomy from doing Science Olympiad in middle school. I signed up for Reach for the Stars, an Astronomy event, and from that moment, I was hooked!   

What advice would you give a student looking to go into your field?

Have a solid foundation in math and programming. Those two keys will help you in my field and so many related fields. There are plenty of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) readily available for anyone to learn any subject (astronomy, programming, or anything else) self-paced, and they are FREE. Take advantage! I have taken numerous classes myself because I never cease wanting to learn.

Do you have any movies, books, or other media to recommend?

I highly recommend The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. This nonfiction book follows the incredible lives of the wives of the very first US astronauts. I enjoy Through the Wormhole, The Cosmos, any show featuring Stephen Hawking, and Star Talk.

Final Word?

Being a woman in STEM is a privilege, and I am proud to represent my fellow women in Astronomy.


Alexa Elliott, Series Producer for Changing Seas

Alexa Elliott, Series Producer for Changing Seas