Physics and astronomy alumnus scores position in Hawaii
For most people, Hawaii means tropical flowers, sandy beaches and ocean sunsets. For Adam Draginda, it’s more than a vacation destination: it’s the site of his job with one of the biggest optical reflecting telescopes in the world.
The UVic alumnus graduated with co-op designation in Physics and Astronomy in 2006. Since then, he has secured a permanent position as a remote observer with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which is perched on top of dormant volcano Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island. He says the work experience he gained through the Physics and Astronomy co-op program was a key reason he got the job that many astronomy students dream about.
In Hawaii, Adam operates the telescope, determines the optimal observing strategy, and carries out observations. “The telescope is operated remotely so I’m solely responsible for the entire telescope,” he says. He also writes software, helps with outreach and conducts research, and says the variety of tasks he does keeps his job “fresh and interesting.”
While in the co-op program at UVic, Adam completed six work terms with three different employers. He spent four semesters at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria, writing code that helped run, visualize, and analyze carbon climate models. He travelled to the Gemini Observatory in La Serena, Chile for another work term to work with the large telescope located there. Finally, he worked at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, studying star formation rates in nearby dwarf galaxies. The results of his research were published in the Astronomical Journal.
“My co-op experiences were why I was hired at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope,” says Adam. “It set me apart from other candidates, some of whom had more education than I did. Co-op also prepared me for the interview process and integration into the company.”
Co-op also helped give direction to his career path, he says. “I have always been fascinated with astronomy and I knew that I wanted to work in the field, but I really didn’t know what career options existed. Nothing is more instructive than actually trying out jobs.”
Thanks to co-op, Adam can enjoy the sandy beaches and sunsets, pick citrus in his backyard for breakfast, and, of course, go to work at a world-class telescope. “I doubt that I would be where I am today had I not had a chance to see and try out jobs in advance,” he says.