Friday, April 11, 2014

Introducing A Degree of Satisfaction

What do people with physics degrees go on to do with their lives once they leave school?

How do they get their first job?

Are they happy with their careers?

These are a just a few of the many questions you may have as a practicing, aspiring or former student of physics. Statistics gathered by the American Institute of Physics aren't quite enough to answer these serious questions. What I aim to deliver here is complementary. I want to provide a richer kind of data: the stories of people with a degree in physics and how their lives unfolded afterwards.

The Seminar

I'm Lloyd Knox, a professor of physics at UC Davis. I teach physics and conduct research in cosmology. Since 2007, my colleague Professor Steve Carlip and I have offered a one-unit seminar course on just this topic. Each week during spring quarter we have one of our alumni tell our students what they've been doing in the world.

Students love this course. It's a gold mine of information, advice and wisdom that you don't get normally in school. But not everyone can take this course, obviously. So I've decided to start blogging interviews with former physics students and sharing them with the world.  

The Blog Project

Once a month I will interview one of our alumni, or someone else with a degree in physics, and blog their experiences and their guidance here. I will focus primarily on answers to the kinds of questions I posed at the start of this post:
  • What big career decisions did you face, if any?
  • How did you find the most exciting opportunities that you have pursued?
  • Was it ever scary to pursue them?
  • What risks did you face?
  • How did you decide what to do?
  • How did other aspects of your life interact with career decisions?
  • What have you found most fulfilling about your work?
  • Were you ever at a point where you realized you absolutely needed a big career change?
  • How did your time at UC Davis prepare you for the challenges you’ve faced?
  • What have you discovered about the ‘real world’ that were great surprises to you?
  • What doors did a degree in physics open for you?
  • Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in school?
  • Can you comment on balancing work with the rest of life?
  • How important is it to love your work?
  • How much of your work is collaborative vs. independent?
  • How important are connections with others in the progress of your career?
People we have had in the seminar (and possible interviewees), include:
  • Greg Chabrier (BS 1976, first salesman for SUN microsystems, angel investor, consultant to startup companies)
  • Carol Thompson Eidt (BS 1977, partner lead architect in the Microsoft Developer Division, and at one time the only female Fellow at Hewlett-Packard)
  • Brian Fies (BA 1983, freelance science writer)
  • Steve Guggenheimer (BS 1987, Chief Evangelist for Microsoft)
  • William Johnson (PhD 2010, Staff Scientist at Sandia National Laboratory)
  • Yatish Mishra (BS 1986, founder and former President and CEO of RagingWire Data Centers)
  • Alex Stern (BS 2011, Electronics Engineer with Defense Microelectronics Activity)
and many more.

In Defense of Higher Education

The stories you will read here articulate a defense of the value of higher education. This defense is timely given current challenges to the academy. State support for our public universities is eroding, tuitions are rising, and access is decreasing. The internet provides new possibilities for some educational accessibility, and at the same time calls upon us to understand what is valuable about gathering students and professors together in one place. On these pages, our alumni will weigh in on these issues.

Follow the Project

Perhaps you are working toward a physics degree now, or you are considering doing so. Perhaps you have a degree in physics and are curious about what your academic sisters and brothers are doing. Or you might be in a similar field and want to benefit from the life and career advice you will find here.  Even if you know exactly where you want to go, life can sometimes take its own path (if your plan is to be the next Richard Feynman, it might help to know there are good fallback options just in case). You may simply be interested in the ongoing conversation about the role of the academy in today's world; if so, there will be something here for you as well. Please subscribe to the blog and join the project.

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