Student Spotlight: Patrick Eastham

Eastham says he was drawn to applied mathematics because it's universal and, historically, has been a good way to answer questions in the science.

Florida State University student Patrick Eastham is pursuing his Ph.D. in the Department of Mathematics, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. In his second year, Eastham was awarded a fellowship from the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program to support the remainder of his graduate education. His research focuses on modeling and simulation of complex, in-homogeneous fluids. The fifth-year graduate student plans to earn his Ph.D. in biomathematics in Summer 2020.

Where are you from and what brought you to FSU?

I’m originally from Atlanta. I actually did my undergraduate degree at Florida State and initially wanted to study international affairs. I did my first year abroad in London, but realized that I enjoyed science more than politics and wound up earning a double major in psychology and applied math.

What inspired you to study biomathematics? What do you find most interesting about your area of research, bio-fluid dynamics?

I was drawn to applied mathematics early-on because mathematics is universal and, historically, has been a good way to answer questions in the sciences. If you understand the mathematics first, you can then apply those techniques to any subject area.

I knew the head of the biomathematics program, Richard Bertram, from my time as an undergrad and thought that open questions in biology were really interesting. I began with an interest in theoretical neuroscience, but eventually moved into the area of bio-fluid dynamics (fluid dynamics applied to biological problems). I focused on my dissertation topic because the mathematics I was interested in while taking courses, partial differential equations and numerical methods, were useful for problems in fluid dynamics. My advisers, Marion Bradley Brennan Professor Nick Cogan and Assistant Professor Nick Moore also are experts in the field, so it was a natural transition.

You were a recipient of the Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. How did you learn about the opportunity?

As graduate students, we occasionally get emails about various funding opportunities which is how I found out about the program. I’d encourage everyone to apply. Even if you don’t get it, the application process helps you focus your attention on a project and is a good exercise as a graduate student.

How has the fellowship changed your path as a student?

It’s been a fantastic experience. From a financial perspective, I might not have finished my degree if I didn’t get the fellowship. My wife and I had a child during the beginning of my graduate studies, and childcare is practically unattainable on a graduate student salary. The fellowship also freed up time in my schedule from teaching every semester: While I enjoy teaching, it is a major time commitment, so having the flexibility to focus solely on research allowed me to work on topics that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Are there any faculty/staff who have helped or inspired you?

Many faculty and mentors have inspired and helped me, too many to list all of them. Zuoxin Wang inspired me to pursue a research career while I was an undergrad. Richard Bertram’s advice helped me ultimately choose to attend the FSU biomathematics program for a doctorate. My advisers, Nick Cogan and Nick Moore, have helped me navigate graduate school and my dissertation work, and Kourosh Shoele from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering has helped remind me to keep a work-life balance while we collaborate on research.

What on-campus sources/departments or offices have helped prepare you for academic success?

The Department of Mathematics has been my main aid when seeking daily assistance or answering more general questions. The culture is very friendly and collaborative, and everyone is happy to help each other. Additional resources I have viewed as extremely helpful are the Dirac Science Library, the FSU Research Computing Center, FSU Sponsored Research Administration, the Graduate School, and all the staff members therein.

Upon receiving your doctorate, what are your plans?

I’m in the process of applying to and interviewing for postdoctoral positions. If things go well, I’ll begin one of those in the fall.

Although you might miss FSU, what are you looking forward to in your post-graduate life?

I’m looking forward to meeting new peers and working on interesting problems.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing schoolwork or research?

I have two young children, so they take up most of my time. Tallahassee is a really good place for kids, so most weekends we have some special event to occupy our attention. When I do have free time, I enjoy reading fiction, watching TV or playing video games.

What advice do you have for fellow students?

Try your hardest in whatever you pursue; even if you aren’t successful, you will learn something.