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Daniel Elton

PhD/Physics & Astronomy  
Postdoctoral Associate  
University of Maryland, College Park  

Dan was a research assistant under the supervision of Prof. Marivi Fernandez-Serra. He came to Stony Brook after earning a bachelor's degree in physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He grew up in the town of Glens Falls, New York.

Position Description

Dan is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at The University of Maryland, College Park. He works with Prof. Peter W. Chung and Prof. Mark Fuge in the Mechanical Engineering Department. His research focuses on applying machine learning, natural language processing, and big data analysis to materials property prediction and materials design. 

Structure of a typical day

The typical day is not much different than that of a PhD student, although for me I find it easier to compartmentalize work from other activities because there isn’t the constant pressure to finish your dissertation and graduate. Unlike some people who do their most intense work in the morning, I usually have to ease into things. The first part of my day is usually spent clearing out email and setting myself up for what I will do for the rest of the day. I usually hit my stride in the afternoon, when I'll be doing some combination of coding and writing, interspersed with breaks. Part of my job will be writing grant proposals, which I don’t mind because I like writing and it helps me greatly with fleshing out and organizing my thoughts.

How did you find the job

I spent quite a bit of time exploring jobs in industry in addition to applying to postdocs. I found this job on a mailing list on data science driven materials design that is put out by a startup called Citrine Informatics.

Advice to other students

Stay social! In the last semester of my PhD I focused nearly all my time on research without putting much time and energy to be socially active outside of work, which was a mistake. There are many things you can do outside of work for fun and to meet people – science outreach, volunteering, joining the Graduate Student Organization, campus clubs, sports, etc. I recently joined a contra dance group which I enjoy a lot.

If you are in your second or third year and having trouble getting settled into your research or having other problems, take time to reconsider things. Talk to people outside of academia. Ask yourself if you really want to a be a professor or PhD level researcher? There is no shame to dropping out with a master's. There are cutting-edge things happening in industry as well.

Pursue research directions that allow you to develop useful skills. The path of least resistance is often not the best although it is often what grad students follow. Sometimes taking extra time up front to refactor a code or learn a new programming language, software package, or technique can pay major dividends later on. One of the benefits of doing a PhD is that you will have many opportunities and ample time to learn useful skills. Take advantage of the talks and workshops at IACS. Technology changes fast and it’s easy to fall behind – always ask yourself, “What skills will still be useful to me in 5, 10, or 20 years?” The ultimate skill is the ability to pick up new skills.

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