Series: Meet Humboldt’s New Faculty – Paola Rodríguez Hidalgo - Humboldt State Now

Series: Meet Humboldt’s New Faculty – Paola Rodríguez Hidalgo

Over the course of the fall semester, Humboldt State NOW has been profiling our new tenure-track faculty. In this final edition, we introduce Professor Paola Rodríguez Hidalgo, Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, who lived most of her life in Madrid, Spain and specializes in Astrophysics.

Professor Paola Rodríguez Hidalgo, Dept. of Physics & Astronomy

Professor Paola Rodríguez Hidalgo, Dept. of Physics & Astronomy

Where are you originally from?
Bogota, Colombia, although I lived in Madrid, Spain most of my childhood and youth.

Where did you complete your education?
BSc Madrid (Universidad Complutense) and Canary Islands (Universidad de La Laguna) in Physics, with specialization in Astrophysics
MSc and PhD University of Florida in Astronomy
2nd BSc (in progress) Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia in Computer Engineering.

Why did you choose your field?
When I finished high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to “be”. I liked Physics, Math, Chemistry and Philosophy. I found out that the BSc in Physics had all of that (in Spain at the time there was less choice of courses to take, so a BSc in Math was mostly Math, for example. Physics had a broader range of courses).

Where have you taught prior to coming to HSU?
I have taught all my life, as a tutor and explaining things to my friends (and apparently my dolls before that, but I don’t recall that… :P )

But seriously, the major experience was being an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. There I taught several courses (Life in the Universe, Great Astronomical Discoveries) and the largest Intro to Astronomy course in North America (and maybe the world?): we had ~1500 students in a room (the convocation hall). I had to teach with a mic, and there were no blackboards. It felt a bit like being a rock star…

Besides that I have been a TA in the University of Florida, and I have led a workshop in Astronomy for high school teachers at York University (in Toronto, for Ontario teachers). I have done plenty of outreach as well, teaching the public.

What are your specific areas of expertise?
Extragalactic Astronomy/Astrophysics. I study the inner regions of galaxies that are far, far away… called quasars.

What classes are you teaching this year?
Descriptive Astronomy (PHYX 104) in the Fall and (maybe!) Life in the Universe (code to be determined) in the Spring.

What attracted you to Humboldt State?
The people. Everybody, especially the students with which I interacted, was incredibly nice when I visited and it seemed it would be a fantastic place to work. Also, the dean of my faculty (Steve Smith) seemed very supportive of the (many!) initiatives I wanted to bring to Humboldt State.

What do you do in your free time outside the classroom?
Spend time with good friends, watch movies, explore, travel, play the cello and the piano, sing loudly and apologetically (that is why I need good friends, the bad ones would not tolerate it…), and other things none of your business ;)

What is your favorite classroom technique to engage students?
Ask questions. I teach my classes as a conversation. I already know the material, so I want the students to learn it for themselves. I am just the medium between their curiosity and their learning.

What is the best thing about being a university professor?
Share the knowledge with the next generation and learn from them at the same time. It keeps us young too!

Where is the strangest place you’ve done research?
After collecting the data at telescopes, my research is carried out mostly in my laptop, which means I can do it wherever. I guess maybe a restaurant in Xi’an, China. Everybody looked at me funny…

If you weren’t an HSU professor, what would you be?
In real life: a professor somewhere else, a high school teacher, a data scientist…
In a parallel life: an orchestra conductor, a war correspondent/journalist, a sociologist…

What superpower would be most valuable to your research?
Teleport! I could go to observe to Chile or Hawaii, then have a coffee with my mom in Madrid, and be back just in time to teach the students of Humboldt about the mysteries of the Universe…