Advice to new graduate students: Do not be afraid to approach problems from unusual perspectives
Dec 19, 2016 | Atlanta
Sebastián Ortega graduated with Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He came to Georgia Tech with a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He is off to Colombia to work for the weather-prediction company CFAN, and then he will apply for a postdoctoral position in Colorado.
What attracted you to study in Georgia Tech? How did Georgia Tech meet your expectations?
What attracted me most was the possibility to study weather and climate. During my senior year studying for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I was particularly interested in studying fluid dynamics. I had done my senior thesis in physical limnology, and I wanted to keep studying along the same lines. Weather and climate were particularly interesting for me; I cannot think of a more interesting area to study fluid dynamics.
I was encouraged to apply to Georgia Tech by Oscar Mesa, a professor in my university, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and Carlos Hoyos, a Georgia Tech alumnus who was working with Peter J. Webster. Peter and Carlos were looking for a new Ph.D. student to join their team.
When I was taking a class with Oscar Mesa, he mentioned the opportunity to study at Tech and connected me with Carlos. After exchanging a few e-mails with Carlos and other students in Peter’s lab, I applied for admission. I was very interested in the research they were doing, so I was very happy to receive an acceptance letter a few months later.
Peter has had around seven Colombian Ph.D. students over the years and has worked with many more. This is important for Colombia, because many of his former students are applying in Colombia the knowledge they gained in meteorology at Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech exceeded my expectations. The people are extremely friendly, smart, and open-minded, which makes for a unique environment. Additionally, the research at Georgia Tech is exceptional.
What is the most important thing you learned while at Georgia Tech?
To be persevering. Perseverance is crucial for research. The ideas I had during my Ph.D. came only after long weeks, even months, of work. Most of the time, this was very frustrating, but it was all worth it: Perseverance was key.
What surprised you the most at Georgia Tech? What disappointed you the most?
Georgia Tech’s diverse community is truly global. It has been great to meet friends from all over the world and to learn from their cultures and different backgrounds.
What disappointed me the most was the high cost of the mandatory fees. They are quite expensive for Ph.D. students.
Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?
Many people had a big impact on me—professors, students, and staff. It would be too long to mention them all. Yet I must mention my Ph.D. advisor, Peter J. Webster, because he had the biggest impact on me. It was truly great to work with Peter. He was always in favor of exploring new ideas and provided invaluable guidance to do so.
What is your most vivid memory of your time at Georgia Tech?
What I will remember most about Georgia Tech is the people. I have been blessed with an extraordinary group of friends here at Tech. Thanks to them GeorgiaTech will always be vivid in my memory.
As a Ph.D. student, I traveled to a lot of conferences. It was a great way to meet people working in the same field I work, as well as to visit different cities.
On the basis of your experience, what advice would you give to new graduate students at Georgia Tech?
Be committed and passionate about your work. Do not be afraid to approach problems from unusual perspectives. The different approaches we take to solve problems can lead to a better understanding of them.
What feedback would you give to Georgia Tech leaders, faculty, and/or staff to improve the Georgia Tech experience for future students?
Keep being supportive of students and keep providing the space and time for them to explore their creativity.
Where are you headed after graduation? How did your Georgia Tech education prepare you for this next step?
I will be returning to Colombia for a few months, and then I will apply to a postdoc position in Colorado to keep doing research. While in Colombia, I will work for CFAN (Climate Forecast Applications Network) weather prediction company founded by Peter Webster and Judith Curry. This is great because I will be able to apply the knowledge I gained during my Ph.D.
My Georgia Tech education was fundamental in preparing me for these next steps. It gave me an undertanding of the current state of knowledge of my field and the confidence to conduct research in the field.