Student Portraits

September 23, 2021

IVADO Student Portraits – Carter Lee Rhea

Our “IVADO Student Portraits” initiative consists of meeting students from our community to share their backgrounds, motivations and ambitions! We interviewed Carter Lee Rhea, PhD student at the University of Montreal.

  • Can you tell us a few words about yourself?

My name is Carter Lee Rhea. I grew up in a suburb of Charleston, a well-known city in South Carolina, in the U.S. It’s famous as the setting of movies like The Patriot and The Notebook, and of course for its rich history. I live in Montréal with my wife and our two cats. I study galaxies and galaxy clusters, and I enjoy it very much.

  • Tell us about your academic journey.

I did two undergraduate degrees at the College of Charleston, one in pure mathematics and one in astronomy. After finishing those two bachelor’s degrees, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I decided to do a master’s in computational mechanics and scientific computing at Duke University. Then I did two years of a PhD program, but decided to quit and set out on a new path. That’s how I ended up studying astronomy at Université de Montréal. I completed my master’s a year ago and I’m now studying toward a PhD there.

  • What motivated you to choose digital intelligence?

At first I had zero interest in the field! But I had just realized how applicable machine learning was to my life and research. I figured I would want to learn how to use it wisely.

  • What are you working on for your research project?

Generally speaking, I study galaxies and galaxy clusters. More specifically, I use machine learning tools to extract the physical properties of the spectra captured by both ground- and space-based telescopes. Even more specifically, I use recurrent neural networks to perform “deconvolution” of the spectra, and convolutional neural networks to extract their physical parameters.

  • Any particular qualities that are serving you well for this project?

I need programming skills as well as in-depth knowledge of astronomy and machine learning algorithms. I spend most of my time doing research and coding in front of a computer. Although there’s all this technical knowledge required, to me the most important thing is creativity. That is, in my opinion, to be a good researcher you have to be creative. Creativity helps us discover unique ways of solving problems.

  • What are your ambitions for the future?

I like astronomy, programming and machine learning, so it’s hard to decide! I’d like to find something that lets me use the skills I learned during my PhD studies and gives me the freedom to pursue my interests.

  • Any resources to share?

I think the greatest resources are novels! They teach us how to look at problems in unique ways. I recommend any book by Stephen King; my favourite is Insomnia. In terms of astronomy, Hubert Reeves’s books are excellent for all readers.

  • Have you ever presented your research project to the general public? How did it go?

Yes! Actually, thanks to IVADO I gave a talk on my work last year as part of the IVADO Digital October event, and I won an audience award.


  • What does IVADO bring to you academically?

The IVADO workshops are super useful for learning new technologies and methods. IVADO also offers me the opportunity to network and meet people who share my interests.