Student Spotlight December 2022

    Clayton Robertson is a doctoral candidate studying Astronomy & Astrophysics in the Physics Department and is anticipated to graduate in the Spring of 2025.



    Q: What is your educational background?

    A: I got my bachelor’s degrees at the University of Louisville in both Physics (with a track in Astrophysics) and Mathematics in Spring 2020.

    Q: What brought you to the University of Louisville?

    A: I am a legacy. My dad got his master’s degree in Mathematics from UofL in 1986. I grew up here, it has always been home to me. I got a great opportunity to continue studying astrophysics here at Louisville working with Dr. Benne Holwerda.

    Q: What is your specific area of research and why does it interest you?

    A: I study dust attenuation in occulting (overlapping) face-on galaxies to study the distribution of star-formation and dust within these galaxies. My goal was always to get into extragalactic astrophysics, and being able to observe stunning galaxies in detail to see their inner workings is what roped me in.

    Q: How would you describe your area of study/specific research to your grandmother?

    A: I look at how stars and their stardust inside of these galaxies outside of our solar system effect how we can observe them. To do that, we find pictures of a galaxy partially overlapping another to see how much light is lost due to the overlap.

    Q: What made you go into this field of study?

    A: Growing up, science has always been my thing; specifically space science. I’ve always had an aptitude for math because my dad is a math whiz himself. To me, the perfect marriage between math, science, and space is Astrophysics. I decided I wanted to be one when I was in 6th grade and haven’t questioned it since.

    Q: How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?

    A: I hope this advanced degree will give me the qualifications possible to continue to be in the astrophysics field for as long as I can. I love studying the cosmos and hope to spread that passion to anybody interested and beyond.

    Q: What are your long-term goals or aspirations?

    A: I want to work for a place like NASA or any facility/organization that would allow me to study the further unknown to the best of my abilities. I aspire to be a researching astrophysicist for as long as possible.

    Q: What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?

    A: Being able to get the opportunity to continue my education in graduate school and pursue a PhD in astrophysics is something I am very proud of.

    Q: What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

    A: The friends I’ve made and relationships I’ve built with others has been my favorite part by far. It’s also been pretty cool to collaborate on a project that utilizes the James Webb Space Telescope.

    Q: What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?

    A: Trying to build and balance a schedule to accomplish something that will take a long time to complete. A PhD thesis/dissertation can take anywhere from 2 years to 5 years after you get done with graduate-level classes. At times it can be tough to design and execute a plan in the early stages when you know it will take a significant amount of time and energy before it is done.

    Q: Tell us about your family life.

    A: I’ve always been very close with my family. I have three older sisters who, along with my parents, are always there to keep me in line and make sure I’m the best person I can be in and out of academia.


    Awards, honors, publications:

    • Robert J. Bickel Award for Undergraduate Mathematics (2017-18 & 2019-20)
    • James J. Drautman Award for Undergraduate Physics (2019)
    • Dr. D M Bennett Memorial Scholarship for Undergraduate Physics (2020)


    Fun Facts:


    A talent you have always wanted: I’ve always wanted to be able to play piano. I can do maybe two very simple songs right now, but I am still very bad at it.


    Favorite book: Ready Player One – Ernest Cline


    Favorite quote: “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” -Richard Feynman


    Role model: My parents, Mechelle and Roland Robertson, have always been and will always be my role models.


    Favorite vacation destination: Gulf Shores, Alabama


    If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now?
    Funny enough, I’ve wanted to have a PhD in physics since I was elementary school. I’m truthfully not sure what I would be doing if I wasn’t in grad school.