Meet Alfred Deakin Fellow Dr Saeed Salimpour, REDI PhD graduate

Dr Saeed Salimpour’s PhD thesis, Visualising the Cosmos – Teaching Cosmology in High School in the era of Big Data, involved investigating innovative approaches to teaching and learning cosmology in high schools. His research topic was at the intersection of science, visual art, and education — an approach that stemmed from his extensive background in these disciplines and his aim to bring the wonder of the cosmos to everyone. He has taught physics and astronomy in school, provided teacher training in astronomy, acted as a mentor in student research projects, and worked on many national and international astronomy education projects. He believes that astronomy provides a gateway to engaging with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Saeed has been awarded an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research (ADPRF) Fellowship this year. The two-year Fellowships are awarded to talented early career researchers, who are within five years of completing their PhDs. His project, “Cosmic pathfinder: Exploring the potential of astronomy as a gateway to STEM”, is supervised by Alfred Deakin Professor Russell Tytler.


What were you hoping to achieve with your PhD project?

In my experience, the innate richness, mystery, and deep cultural aspects of astronomy (and particularly cosmology) provide a stage to engage students in appreciating the connections between STEM and non-STEM disciplines.

Connections or synergies between disciplines are fundamental to building knowledge and need to be central to education in the 21st Century. My aim was to demonstrate this through cosmology and make knowledge accessible to all students by developing evidenced-based resources that support teachers in bringing the cosmos into their classroom.

Why did you decide to do your PhD at Deakin?

Together with one of my mentors, Dr Michael Fitzgerald (who was also my external supervisor), I was able to engage with Professor Russell Tytler who understood and appreciated what I was trying to achieve with my research. Prof. Tytler’s work in developing representation construction and his experience with aesthetics and conceptions in science education provided a vital match to what I was exploring in my PhD. Representations are vital to students understanding the universe and grappling with the various concepts underpinning cosmology.

Prof. Tytler’s vast experience in supervising PhD students coupled with his genuine appreciation of astronomy and prior teaching of the subject, meant that he could provide the guidance needed for my research.

How was your experience with you supervisors?

The right combination of supervisors is perhaps one of the key foundations to having a productive and enjoyable PhD journey. Fortunately, in my case, my supervisory team, Prof. Russell Tytler (Deakin), Dr Michael Fitzgerald (Deakin/Las Cumbres Observatory), A/Prof. Urban Eriksson (Lund University, Sweden), also known as Team Cosmos (initially supported by Prof Vaughan Prain [Deakin-retired], A/Prof Peter Hubber [Deakin-retired]), were cosmologically fantastic! Each one of them brought extensive experience, and diverse perspectives, which allowed for rich discussions. They were open to ideas and took the time to listen. They knew when to push, and when to allow me the freedom to go down a path of discovery. The feedback they provided always helped clarify my own thinking, allowing me to focus my research aims. Given my PhD was done by publication, they were very supportive in helping me navigate the peer-review process. I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisory team!

What was a highlight of your PhD?

This is one of those seemingly simple questions, that has a complicated answer. The PhD in my opinion is a journey of discovery much like the journeys of the Starship Enterprise! And as such, my PhD adventure had multiple highlights. One of the most important highlights was knowing that the research I was undertaking would provide teachers with the resources to engage, inspire and support a new generation of thinkers providing them with the skills and knowledge to guide humanity through the 21st Century and beyond. Another highlight was having the opportunity to work with researchers (including my supervisory team) who are leaders in the field, allowing me to grow as a researcher.

Now that you have completed your PhD what are your next steps and challenges?

For the past two years I have been the inaugural postdoctoral researcher in astronomy education for the International Astronomical Union Office of Astronomy for Education, hosted at the in Germany. Recently, I was awarded an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship starting in 2023 and hope to continue my collaboration as associate researcher with the International Astronomical Union Office of Astronomy for Education. I also lecture in a unit for pre-service physics teachers at Deakin and provide training to teachers in astronomy.

My aim is to extend the research outcomes from my PhD and help teachers bring the wonders of the cosmos to their students. I have been working with researchers in the USA on National Science Foundation and Department of Defence grants, and with researchers from Sweden and Belgium on astronomy education research projects. I would also like to develop units on astronomy and astronomy education at Deakin that would be open to all students from any faculty.

Any path of discovery will have its challenges; however, it is important to have the right support to navigate those challenges. In my case, I am fortunate to have the support of my supervisors and mentors. Live long and prosper.

News 28 February 2023