Monday, May 25, 2020

Brian Chiang: "Everything I need to know for my career, I learned at the UC Davis Department of Physics"

Brian Chiang '97, is now Vice President for Marketing at DiCon Fiberoptics
After a bachelor’s degree in physics at UC Berkeley, Brian Chiang entered the UC Davis Physics PhD program. With three years completed Brian concluded he wasn’t likely to become a professor or researcher, and decided to exit in 1997 with a master’s degree. He soon got a job at DiCon Fiber Optics where he has been ever since. His current position there is Vice President for Marketing. 

Before presenting the transcript of his presentation, and the key points we identified from it, allow me to digress briefly. Months after his 2018 presentation, Brian let me know his firm was looking for a process engineer. I connected him with a 2017 UC Davis bachelor’s degree recipient, who I thought might be interested. Not only was he interested, as it turned out, he also got the job! I am very pleased about this fruitful connection resulting from our seminar series. 

Below we present the transcript of Brian’s presentation, after first listing the key points we identified: 

  • Not many companies recruit specifically for physics majors but the skillset you take away from a physics degree is widely applicable

    • Marketable skills a physics degree can give you: 

      • Solving long, complex problems without getting discouraged

      • Keeping lots of details organized

      • Putting together a big picture out of small details

      • Learning complex systems quickly

      • Coming up with unique solutions to problems

      • Listening and asking the right questions

      • Recognizing patterns

  • Advice for physics majors seeking jobs in industry:

    • Be ready to adapt to new problems with the problem solving skills you have

    • Teaching assistant experience can develop very valuable skills

    • When looking for your first job, consider:

      • Which industries are projected to grow and which may be growing outdated

      • The size of company you want to work for

      • What kind of team you’re joining

      • Opportunities to find a mentor who can help you advance your career

    • Try to take initiative in your work rather than just following directions

Finding my First Job

I was a graduate physics student here for 3 years, from ‘94 to ‘97, and then I made one of the biggest career decisions of my life: the decision not to continue with graduate school. I found out when I went out in the real world that it’s very difficult to find your first job with a physics degree. You have to look really hard to find people who are looking for a physicist. But if you do find a job, in my experience, you will thrive in that environment because of the training and the skills you received in graduate school. 
    I went to Berkeley for undergrad, and then, even though I had gone to a good undergrad school, I couldn't find a job, so I decided to go to grad school. I went through a lot of the same struggles that some of you are facing while figuring out what to do with your career path. Some of you are probably very set: you’re smart, you’re moving on to become professors and researchers. I didn’t think I was that good, so I made a decision not to continue with that program: I got my Master’s degree and walked out. I had nothing planned at that point and it was very devastating. For a few months, I was teaching in American River College in Sacramento, a couple hours a day, for around 39 bucks an hour. I think part of the training I got from being in graduate school was that I learned how to live while being paid very little. That helped me survive for a few months. Part of the reason I quit was because I was dating the woman who would become my wife, so there was a lot more motivation not to study, to spend time with her. She worked really hard, trying to find a job for me somewhere, going to all the career fairs. At that time, I had pretty much already given up on finding a job, because, you know, there are no jobs out there, nobody wants to hire physics people. I’m sure many of you are facing the same job shortage today. She went to the Berkeley career fair, and then called me to say, ‘I found a company who’s recruiting for a physics major!’ And that was the only one, she was so excited. And the funny thing was that the recruiter was also very excited, because no physics students go to the career fair to look for jobs. So it was a match! No matter what it is: your relationship, your work, your family, your career; it’s all about how you find a match that’s right for you. And it’s not easy, but I happened to be lucky. We found a match, I started working there, and I’ve been working at the same company for over 20 years now. 

I went in at an early stage of what was called the optical communication boom. Many of you take it for granted now, but back then, it was the early stages of communication and fiber optic deployment, so we were just starting to put long-haul fiber through cities, and from major cities to other cities. There was a big boom in the late 90s, and the company I worked for happened to be a dominating player in a special part of that industry. It was a very small company, but a major player in fiber optic switching, splitting, and laying web lanes. 

From Details to the Big Picture

I started as a process engineer. You go on the production line, and you work with the production line upgraders. You help them to make their job better, increase the output, make things better, make the process more efficient. You have to put everything into details. Training in physics will help you to do that, because we look at very complex equations, we do very complex problems. That kind of training really helped me to become a good processing engineer. 
Physics people are also very innovative, we like to try different things. That experience helped me to deploy those skills onto a production line. I connected the network from one stage to another stage, and I built databases. When you calculate a problem, you find out the first order perturbation, the second order perturbation, you solve it to the smallest scale. That’s a tendency that we receive in our training: we have that kind of mentality. So I was a very good process engineer. I was able to run the line very efficiently, and I was able to help increase the capacity, and I created a lot of new processes.
I was later promoted to become more like an operational manager, where I did things outside of just the production line. I would go into purchasing, I would negotiate with vendors, I would go do planning to build a factory. Part of the training I received was looking at things at a very detailed level, but very often, in negotiation, you need to zoom out to look at the big picture. Like engineers, we can do very detailed calculations, but in physics we can also look at a bigger scale: conservation of energy, kinetic or potential, should always be the same. Some things need to be constant, some things will never change. It’s similar to understanding the market: whatever goes down must come back up, whatever goes up must come back down. We have a greater insight of situations like that. You may not know you have that skill until one day, you’ve been challenged, and that basic instinct that you acquired throughout that training will come out. That’s how I discovered that I could be a great negotiator. I was as good as our best purchasing person in the company: I was able to cut costs, negotiate contracts, look at the big picture. In a very complex negotiation situation, it doesn't matter what’s being thrown at me, I’m able to come out on top, because I am able to see a more complex, complete picture. 

Sales as Technical Problem Solving

The next phase of my career was more of a business operation. In about 2002, I moved to a more sales and marketing role. Just to clarify, when you work in a high tech industry, the way we do sales is a completely different skill than, say selling cars. It’s a more technical concept of: ‘Can I solve a problem for you?’ When we want to design a very small, very unique product for a customer’s system, we need to first understand the complexity of that system: how the optical network is constructed, how it’s linked, the different modulation formats, the different waves and how their wavelengths are split, and what applications there will be. Whether at the enterprise level, city level, or long haul level, there are a lot of things you need to understand. A degree in physics will help you to not have to worry about that. You can face all these technical challenges, because you can go in and understand things at a very technical level. And you may not always understand completely, but if you work hard enough, you should be able to understand it to a level where you can do the job well. The other thing is that once you understand the problem, you need to be able to propose a solution. You have the knowledge to understand, but you also have the skill to listen. This is especially true for people who are in graduate school: I acquired that skill as a teaching assistant here. At that time we were implementing a new program where we didn’t just repeat whatever the teacher says- instead, we started asking questions and trying to derive the answers from the students. That was such good training for me, because later, when we go to the customer’s side, the first thing we need is to understand where the problem is. Like with that new teaching method, you have to learn how to ask the right questions to get the right answers. Working as a TA was such fantastic training for me because later on, when I went into the field, I was very good at 1) listening and trying to find out what the problem is, and 2) coming up with a good question to clarify what is not clear. And on top of that, if you’re smart enough to understand the whole thing in detail, then you can propose a solution for them. That’s very fun and very challenging for me. The product is the solution, and if it’s the best, you win. You still compete in the marketplace- you’ve got to have the best technology, but the technological platform alone may not win the deal; you’ve got to match it to the customer’s requirement. 

Physicists: Fun and Unafraid!

You have to have a good personality to go into sales and marketing. And over my 20 year career, I’ve often thought that as physicists we have the best personalities in all of technical/hard science majors, because all the fun people study physics. 
So for example, the company I work for is diversifying into solid state lighting. Everybody understands LED lighting, so I always tell people that I work for an LED Lighting company to get a conversation going. If I see somebody I really don’t want to talk with, I’ll tell them I work for a fiber optic company, doing optical communication, and that conversation usually ends right there. LED lighting tech is a very challenging field. We don’t do individual lights, one chip at a time we do high cluster, high power, point source, LEDs that can mix colors. These things are very important for film and video productions so you can match the lighting of different environments. Our CEO is a very technical person. He understands that lighting can be controlled easily when you have a small source: you can shade, you can blend, you can mix light. Full size ones are like a jack in the box: once it comes out it’s hard to put back in. That’s an insight that he had. And he gave me the task of figuring out how to make a product and sell it, so I’ve taken it to different fields to market it.  
We have a brand in the image capture industry called Fiilex, we have a brand in the horticulture market called Kessil, and we’re also going to develop another brand name to manufacture lighting inside theater and broadcasts. I always go back to my training in physics when I go into a very complex environment. We’re not afraid of problems: that’s probably the biggest strength you have from your training in physics: you’ve seen very difficult problems. I remember the days that we’d do a calculation that was 10-20 pages. Who else would do that? Only crazy people like physicists would find joy in that. You have the patience to look at things one clue at a time, work everything out and go in there and figure out where the solution is. If that’s wrong, you’re willing to throw that 20 pages away and start it again from line 1, right? I believe many of you can do that, have done that. That’s training for not giving up, being willing to look at detail, and willing to solve problems. That’s a very special and unique skill that, later on in your career, will be extremely useful. Today I’m working at a top level, looking at market direction for the company, and that's not a very easy task. There’s a lot of challenge and a lot of pressure. But I’m able to do that because of the experience I had at a program like Davis. 

Advice for the Job Seeker

What kind of advice can I tell you? Number one is be ready. In your career, are you ready to be challenged? Believe that your training in physics is one of the best assets you will have in your life. So be ready, you have that capability. There are three things that people look for: 1) Are you technical enough? 2) Are you organized enough?  3) Your people skills. A physics major will bring you all three. We may not be specialized to the point where we can do a circuit board layout, or do a mechanical drawing of a very complex structure, but we have a very general understanding of the big picture, of very technical subjects at a very broad level. We’ve been trained to think, and that's a very unique technical skill. And we’re organized. In the real world, you’ve got to be very organized to get things done. And if you’re not organized, you won’t be able to study physics, because you won't be able to do that 20 page problem. You have no idea how important that is. I have trained a lot of people over the years how to do a good spreadsheet. And it’s very simple: you just align on the right, font size consistent, etcetera. Some people could not do it: right, left, font size 9, 8, 10, 7, all over the place, and they couldn’t see that. I always wondered why when I go look at spreadsheets I can pick that out right away. Why were these people not able to? And I realized: we just have these kinds of eyes and skills because of the kinds of problems we do in physics.
As for people skills: I think physics people are all pretty chill. We have a way of looking at life: like, whatever comes will be okay. We have that mindset, we’re fun to hang out with, we’re interesting, and that’s a very great, unique people skill.
Number 2, and this is the hard one, you’ve got to have luck. That’s true for anybody. In my career path, I later found out that you need to have a little bit of luck. One of my mentors told me that in a successful career it’s about 80% luck and 20% hard work. You can steer this factor a little bit by looking at several things. You need to look at 1) the industry, 2) the company, 3) the team, and 4) the mentor.
You want to look for an industry that's not a dying industry. I work for a photonics company: lights, lasers, lighting. That industry is on the front end of lighting and communication: today’s LED revolution. It will continue to grow. Every industry has its ups and downs, so you have to find the right moment to go into the industry. 
Within the industry, companies will have different levels. Very small ‘mom and pop shops’ with 20 people are very limited on what they can do. There are companies like Intel, Facebook, and Google that have tens of thousands of people, but when you go in, you are like a little screwdriver. You do only one thing and have no big picture whatsoever. It will take you years to climb up to the top level. So you need to look at what kind of company you’re going into.
Within the company, what kind of team do you want to work with? There are teams that are about to be cut, and there are teams that will continue to have funding: are you working in a team that has a forward looking opportunity? 
I think the fourth one is the most important, especially for your first job: do you have a mentor that can help you grow, can teach you? I think I was very fortunate to have somebody, a very senior person with 20 years of industry experience, sit next to me every day. He would challenge me, and grind me, and grill me, and push me, and teach me everything inside out. And the reason was luck: we were in an early growth phase, I was the first process engineer to be hired. I was the only one he’d got because no other physics people were coming into the company. If I was the second one, I probably wouldn’t be as successful as I am today. 
Number 3 is also very important. You have to be very committed. As a senior person in industry, we see a lot of people come into the workplace and say, ‘Show me the path, where is it? You tell me what to do to get there, and then I will start working.’ We often talk about what’s causing this problem, and I think it’s a generational thing. There are some different factors. I think the challenge we see in industry is that we see a lot of people coming to the workplace who don’t work as hard or aren’t as committed as our generation, people that went to work 20 years ago. I went in without knowing much about industry, just thinking, ‘Whatever challenge you give me, I will do the best I can, I’ll continue to work hard, to move forward.’ If you want to have a career, don’t just ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ You have to commit. You should be able to turn away, I’m not saying you have to be committed for life, but if you do step into something, you’ve got to go in with the intention that this can go for a lifetime. That’s my personal philosophy. 


Question and Answer

Q: So you mentioned your mentor when you first joined DiCon in process engineering, did you have an equivalent mentor in the business operations side?

A: Yes, I was promoted to become a special assistant to the CEO. All my management responsibility on the production line was all gone: the CEO says, ‘You do this,’ and I do that. ‘Go negotiate that contract,’ I go negotiate that contract. Even as somebody just graduated from college, I was going in there to negotiate 2-3 million dollar contracts. Some people will say, ‘What kind of role is that? You’re just like a puppy, being told what to do.’ A lot of people don’t realize this, but you’re doing that right next to the CEO of the company, who is the smartest guy in the company. You see how he makes decisions, because you constantly see people coming in and saying, ‘I want this,’ and sometimes he will say yes, and sometimes he will say no. And if you pay attention, you start thinking, when does he say yes, when does he say no? That’s a physics skill: we look for patterns. Then you can start having conversations with him. I learned a great deal. It’s what we call duck theory. You see the duck on the pond, you see the duck moving a lot, but how come the duck moves like that? Its two feet are propelling it under the water. As the special assistant, I was those two feet. Nobody saw me moving, but I had great influence on company policy. I would not be joking if I told you that you have to have a 30 second pitch ready, because you do that in the elevator, you do that at the entrance to a lobby, and you do that in the bathroom. I’m not kidding: I’ve had a lot of policies set with our CEO when we run into each other going to the bathroom, standing next to each other, or in the elevator. As a special assistant, you’ve got to have to have a lot of questions, because the CEO is very busy. Your question has got to be precise, to the point, and phrased in a way so he can easily say yes or no. That’s an organizational skill.

Q: How important do you think your graduate degree was specifically for getting into DiCon as a new company?

A: If I had to do it all again, I definitely would come back for at least the first year of graduate school. I think that the first year of graduate school prepared me a lot for work. Some of you here are preparing to take the prelim, that’s difficult. I didn’t pass it the first time, you know.

I also came in with a very strong class. I remember a time when every single day, it would be 4 in the morning, and we’d all still be there drinking a big pot of coffee. I really cherish that time, because they pushed me so hard. Because I experienced that, I was able to go into this industry during the boom time with no fear. I worked 24/7 for a period of time, pretty much on call. I could jump right in and solve problems because of that training I had, so the first year definitely was very valuable. 
There are very subtle things that you do, you don’t know that they are valuable, but they really are. I think a lot of things that we learn are so abstract that they’re hard to quantify. It’s easy for an engineer: ‘I know how to lay a circuit board, I know how to draw in SolidWorks, etcetera.’ Those are very specific skills. I think a physics degree is a training, it trains you to think differently. At least in my company and the people that I mentored, these are the kinds of things that will carry you very far into your career and will elevate you to the top level. 
I have met so many engineers at big companies, and some people hate their jobs so much, but they’re paid such insane amounts of money that it’s hard for them to leave. I don’t get paid insane amounts of money, but I do love my job. You may feel like somebody else in a different degree gets jobs so much better than ours. That is sometimes true: engineers at large tech companies, many of them with the PhD electrical engineering majors, have very specific skills and very good jobs. But 10 years later, they are still down in the server room. Because when your training is very specific, you may get tied into a job that’s very specific. So your career eventually ends up in a situation where they need to keep paying you to keep you happy until one day they say it’s way too much, and they will cut you and find someone younger that’s cheaper to replace your work. However, if you have flexibility, you have skills, you’re able to jump from place to place. 

Q: There was that time after you left the PhD program, a few months where you were teaching. When you got the new job after teaching, what motivated you to commit? 

A: I didn’t commit. I went in there when they wanted to hire me, and I said, ‘Well, my girlfriend is going to graduate school in Berkeley so I’ll be here two years.’ That’s what I told them, and they still hired me anyway, because nobody else was applying. They really needed someone with an optics and physics background. The recruiter was having a really hard time. They called my girlfriend to say, ‘Please, please ask him to apply.’ She was like, ‘Wow, they were so nice to me, they really want you.’ Again, it’s luck, you just don’t know. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Cassandra Paul - Choosing to Attend College Forever: Life as a Professor and Physics Education Researcher

Cassandra Paul, class of 2012, is a professor
at San Jose State University
Cassandra Paul is an Associate Professor of Physics & Astronomy at San Jose State University. She came to speak to our current students in the spring of 2017, to tell them about being a professor at a Master's/Baccalaureate institution as opposed to a PhD-granting institution such as UC Davis. She also discussed the field of Physics Education Research, told us some about her current research and gave an impressive overview of her approach to balancing all the demands of teaching, research, service, and the rest of life.

Professor Paul received her doctorate in physics from UC Davis in 2012. Her current research interests include active learning techniques, assessment, instructor professional development, and supporting graduate student teaching assistants.

We start with the key points from her presentation, and follow it with a lightly edited transcript of her remarks and the Q&A session.

Key Points:
  • University teaching job classification:
    • Doctoral university
      • High research requirements, low teaching load
      • Option for faculty to lower teaching load by taking on more research or service
    • Master’s/Baccalaureate university
      • Lower research requirement, higher teaching load
      • Option for faculty to lower teaching load by taking on more research or service
    • Community College
      • Little to no research requirement, highest teaching load
  • Advice for new professors
    • When negotiating a job offer, ask for a reduced teaching load in the first few years
    • Apply for research release time both internally and externally
      • Grants can supplement your salary
      • Grants can 'buy you out' of your commitment to teach at your institution
  • Work life balance (how Cassandra does it)
    • Learn how to say no
    • Choose a job that works for you as much as you work for it
      • Structure your academic and career choices around your lifestyle, not the other way around
  • How to prepare to be a professor while in grad school
    • Get involved with extracurricular activities
      • Search committees look for a well rounded person that will fit into their community, not just someone qualified for teaching
    • Get involved with service
      • Organizations at UC Davis include: Graduate Teaching Community, Teaching Assistant Consultants, the Graduate Student Association, Professors for the Future, Chancellor's Advisory Board, American Physical Society, American Astronomical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, and Graduate Students’ League
    • Ask to lecture during the summer
    • If attending a conference, take advantage of the teaching programs that are often before or after the main events
    • Educate yourself on Physics Education Research (PER)
    • Spend a lot of time on your job applications
    • Tailor your cover letter and CV to match the job call

Partial Transcript:

The first thing I wanted to talk about is the differences between teaching and research requirements at different universities. It’s something you may have heard a little bit about, but I want to lay it out here so you have some perspective. There are three main, really broad classifications of colleges. You have the doctoral universities like Davis or any other UC; you have the Master’s and Baccalaureate universities and colleges; all of the CSUs fit in that, and that is any university that has their terminal degree as a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree. Then there are community colleges, and those are two-year schools that don’t have any higher degrees. You can be an adjunct/lecturer or a professor in any type of place.

First let me say that this is classification is very broad, and it’s hard to make generalizations across schools, so specific schools might differ. At doctoral universities, you have very high research requirements, and you have a lower teaching load. For example, since a lot of doctoral universities have teaching loads of 1-2 courses per semester or per quarter, they have higher research requirements. Just to put a number on it, more than a paper per year. And they also have service requirements. You serve on committees, you do service for the university, maybe you volunteer to review scholarship applications; there are all different types of things that you can do that are going on behind the scenes that you don’t even know about as a graduate student, and that’s the service requirement. At Master’s and Baccalaureate colleges, they have medium research requirements. What I mean when I say medium is that research is a part of our job description, we do have to have active research programs, but the requirements as to how we display that are a little looser. For example, I can publish less than a paper per year, even less than a paper every two years, and be completely fine and up to date with the research requirement for my institution. Our teaching loads are medium to high: for example, at my university it’s a 4-4 load. That means we teach 4 required courses in the spring and 4 courses in the fall. That sounds terrifying, but I’m going to talk about how it actually isn’t what it may seem. We also have service requirements, and I actually don’t know how to compare the service requirements across universities. I think it has more to do with the individual, and what they want to take on, than it does with the university.

At community colleges, there are low or no research requirements. Some community colleges like their faculty to be involved in research, so they can get students getting into research at the associate level, but it’s more of a bonus feature than it is a need to have an active research program. Community colleges also have high teaching loads, similar to what is required at CSUs. The other main difference is that at doctoral and Master’s/Baccalaureate colleges, however high their teaching load, there’s always the option to do what’s called ‘buy-out,’ which means that you can do research or service instead of teaching a course. From what I understand, that’s not really an option at a community college: your teaching load is pretty much set.

If you’re an adjunct or a lecturer, your whole job is teaching: you do not have service requirements or research requirements. These types of jobs have a flexible course load, but that means your paycheck is similarly “flexible” as you a paid by the number of units you teach. So that is an option that some people choose if they want to have a more flexible type schedule.

For the rest of my talk, I’m going to be focusing on what it’s like teaching for a Master’s or Baccalaureate university, which is all the CSUs. The best advice that I got when I started my job was to ask for a reduced teaching load for my first few years. They had already offered me one, but then a current faculty member there told me to ask for more. I asked for a 50% reduction, I got some pretty big release time for my first few years, and that really really helped me, because that meant I had some time to start working on my research, and I could spend time preparing my courses the first time I taught them. As I became more familiar with university, I got more involved with students, I got more involved with service, and I actually had time to engage with graduate students and mentor them on projects. And these kinds of things actually count as course release time. If you teach a certain number of graduate students, they count as research units. I think you need 6 graduate students, and that counts as a full course release. That’s a nice thing to do, because you can then buy yourself out of a course for that semester.

Another thing that you can do is certain service requirements. For example, I’m a graduate coordinator, which means that I handle all the admissions and I advise students on how to get through to graduation. That also counts as a course release. So this actually starts looking pretty good: for as long as I continue to have an active research program, I anticipate not teaching any more than two classes per semester. The other thing is that large courses at my university count as double courses. Anything over 150 students means I get an extra course for release time, which is nice too.

The last thing, and this is also true at doctoral universities, is that I can apply for research release time both internally and externally. What this means is that the college, when they have these calls for proposals, you can say, ‘Hey, I would like to do this project, and can I please have some a course release time for this semester?’ For external, in the same way you might get it at another institution, you can apply to NSF, and you can say, ‘Part of my budget is buying myself out.’ That means that the grant pays the university so somebody else can teach your teaching load. That’s something you can do as well.

So what does it look like to do research at CSU? The short story is, it looks a lot like doing research at a doctoral university, except you have less time and fewer resources to do it. I have research group meetings, I go to conferences at least twice a year, I have undergraduate researchers, and I also have graduate students. The thing about graduate students at the Master’s college is that they turn over really quickly, because you only have them for two years. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s just as they start to get useful that they leave.’ But I actually find that while there is some truth to that, they’re also a lot more motivated because they’re only here for a short period of time.

This is what research looks like on the whole, but what does it look like to do physics education research? Remember, the thing that I do is a little bit different than what a lot of other physics professors do. Physics Education Research is the study of how students learn in physics, methods used to teach and learn physics, the effects of different curriculum and environments on student learning in physics, the underrepresentation of women and minority students in physics, professional development for physics educators, or any other thing to do with learning or teaching in physics. You might think, ‘Okay, you’re studying all these things that have to do with education, why aren’t you over in the college of Education?’ That’s a pretty good question, and there’s a lot of great answers to that, but one of the main reasons is that in order to understand how students learn physics, you really need to understand physics at an expert level. And also, to be able to understand how to better teach it, you have to understand how you learn physics. There’s what’s called PCK, pedagogical content knowledge: this idea that if you’re an expert in physics, you have a better idea of how to help students learn these types of things. The roots of this field come from physics professors being unsatisfied with how their students were learning in the classroom and then transitioning from doing research in whatever their respective field was before into understanding how students better learn physics and can do better. And if you haven’t heard of physics education research, it’s not all that surprising, because it’s a relatively new field.

Katharine A. Anderson, Matthew Crespi, and Eleanor C. Sayre
Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 13, 010121 – Published 1 May 2017
In fact, this plot was just published this month. This gray line here is the number of authors, and the colored lines are the numbers of papers. The graph only starts in 1980, and for the first 15-20 years, it’s the same people publishing, it’s just a few articles here and there. But around the year 2000, it jumps up. We have two new journals: one that was created in 2000 and one in 2005. Since I started as a graduate student, the number of papers and the number of authors in this field has doubled, which is crazy.

Katharine A. Anderson, Matthew Crespi, and Eleanor C. Sayre
Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 13, 010121 – Published 1 May 2017
This is another way to represent the data, from the same paper: the different dots are the different authors, and the lines between them are co-authorships on papers. This is from 1980-1990, and there’s just a few people, there might be some collaborations, but there’s really just a lot of people doing their own thing. And then if you look at ‘91 through 2000, you can start to see these research groups start collaborating, start working together on things, but it’s still a pretty disparate group. Finally, you look at 2000 to 2010, and all of a sudden you see co-authorship across lots of different universities, different people working together. And in fact, if you plot all these together, you end up with, and you can look at the paper that shows this, an image that has pretty much all of these dots interconnected. It’s really grown to be much more of a community.

Where do you study physics education research? Turns out, all over. This (pictured below) is a map that is on the PER central website, and it shows many of the individuals in the US that are doing physics education research. Not all of these are programs where you can get a degree in physics education research, but these are all places that have faculty members who are doing this type of thing. And I also want to highlight that UC Davis is the only current physics PhD granting PER group in California. Stanford has PER researchers there, but they don’t have a way for you to earn a PhD in physics and study in PER. Berkeley has a program as well, but it’s not housed in physics, it’s housed in the department of education. Which is actually kind of sad, because I have a lot of Master’s students who are like, ‘I want a PhD in PER, where do I go?’ and I’m like, ‘You have to leave California.’ If any of you are California native in here, you know it’s really hard to get people to leave California.

What do PER grads do with their degrees? Lots! Many become academics, but there are also lots of separate options. Just to give you a snapshot of what happened to me, I applied to 9 jobs, I got 5 interviews and 3 job offers. My 3 job offers were: a physics education research postdoc; a full time lecturer position with TA training type job, and then the one I took, which was a tenure track assistant professor in physics and also in science education, which means I teach in both science education and the physics education groups. I want to stress that there are a vast number of PER postdoc jobs available around the nation, they’re having a hard time filling them. Others teach at private high schools. They also work for the national conferences, like the American Association of Physics Teachers and American Physical Society. There are also a few that have gone out on their own and become research consultants. I’m actually impressed by how many of them have been successful in that area. And a lot of them work a museums.

Dr. Knox: Who are [the research consultants’] clients?

They work for people who have a grant to do some educational type research, helping them with the assessment and that kind of thing.

Because we’re talking about physics education research, I wanted to show a couple interesting results from PER. The first study I’m going to show you is from 1998, so it’s an old study.

The Force Concept Inventory is a 30 question multiple choice exam that is just focused on Newton’s laws. There are no calculations, it’s just a ‘do you understand Newton’s laws’ kind of test. They made this exam and they thought students would be able to do really well on it after taking a physics course, but it turns out they don’t. This is what actually got a lot of physics professors interested in studying physics education research, because they could not believe that their students could perform so poorly on this test.

Hake, R., Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods:
A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses,
American Journal of Physics 66, 64 (1998); doi:
Richard Hake surveyed across the country and he said, ‘Hey everybody who’s administered this FCI to their students, can you send me your results and also whether or not you consider your course an interactive engagement course?’ In an interactive engagement course, the instructor uses active learning methods in class and students are doing things, the professor isn’t just at the blackboard the whole time. Let me explain this plot, it’s essentially a way of assessing how much students have learned over the course of the semester. The average gains for the traditional classes were about 24%, and the averages for these interactive engagement courses are much higher, 40 or 50%. There is some overlap here, there are some interactive engagement courses that don’t perform as well, but we do see a clear distribution or distinction between these two types of courses.

If you doubt these results; it’s a long time ago, it might have changed, maybe the research methods weren’t performed as well as they could have been, this was redone again just last year with very similar results. These graphs aren’t directly comparable because the bin sizes are just a little different, but you can see that the averages for the traditional courses are around 25% and the averages for the interactive courses are somewhere between 40 and 50%. There’s quite a bit more conceptual learning happening in these interactive engagement courses.

Von Korff, J. et al. Secondary analysis of teaching methods in introductory physics:
A 50 k-student study American Journal of Physics 84, 969 (2016);
I also wanted to briefly just mention this other paper which came out just this year. This Physics Teacher did this analysis on the number of physics bachelor's degrees awarded by department, and what they found is, for physics education research programs, the average number was 19. For departments that don’t have a PER group, the average was only 12. Now you look at this, and you consider, well, big departments are more likely to have physics education research programs, so really this is maybe just measuring how big a program is. And you can look at the results, and you find that during 2004 and 2005, it was still higher for departments that had physics education groups. But these results aren’t significant. There’s an 18% chance that this happened by chance.

The Physics Teacher, Feb 2017
So this was done again in 2014-2015, and we see that PER departments have an average of 29 bachelor's degrees, where non PER departments have 19. If you look at this number by the number of faculty by department, you’ll see that PER departments still have a larger number of bachelor’s degrees PER program, and this time it’s actually significant, there's only a 3% chance that these data happened by chance. What could be happening here is that having a physics education research group in a department actually helps change the culture of what it means to make sure your students are learning in the class. You have experts now in research-based teaching, and this is now legitimizing this as a practice. This is something that other faculty members pick up: they learn things from working with their colleagues, and this ends up being better for everybody.

A little bit about my own research: I worked on this thing called RIOT, the real time instructor observing tool. A couple other researchers and I established what’s called inter-rater reliability: we measure the different kinds of interactions that happen in a classroom and make sure that the measurements between each other are within some pre-established errors. One interesting thing we did is that we looked at how the time the instructor spent listening to students or actively observing students positively correlated with the average final exam score. The reason I’m showing you this is to build off the idea that interactive engagement is useful. If you’re listening to your students talking, you have more information on how to give them feedback on what their learning is. This is one interpretation of this plot.

I’m also thinking more about TA and faculty professional development, how to get faculty and TAs to be more reflective about their teaching practices, and moving in a direction where I’m thinking more about systemic issues at the universities and how to support all students- looking to make more large scale changes at the level of the institution.

I mentioned earlier that I’m only teaching 2 classes per semester, so I have two classes: one class is 4 hours per week, the other is 8. My advising and graduate student research, that’s about 8 hours per week as well; my graduate student board, university service, and other things are 8 hours; and my research is 8 hours. If I’m being completely honest, I would say that these last two items usually end up being a little more shortchanged if I’m spending a little bit more time on teaching these hard classes, especially if I’m teaching a new course. Something that I always make sure to do is I make sure to keep one day for research, because it’s really important to me to be able to get that done. So if I can manage it every semester, and we can often do this because on Fridays at San Jose State there’s fewer courses, I try to block out a full day for research.

I’m getting into my idea here of work life balance. I don’t do weekend emailing, I don’t do night emailing, and I have a 40 hour per week boundary. My exception is conferences. If I go to conferences, it’s just all the time. And this is something that I just started doing in the past year. And it is something that has been instrumental for my mental health. Once you start getting into the habit of doing it, for me it makes me more efficient during work hours, and it also made me enjoy my off hours a lot more. I do this so I can spend more time hanging out with my son, my family, going on hikes, getting out there.

So what does it mean to have it all? What does work-life balance really mean? I’m telling you what works for me, and your work-life balance may look very different from mine. But this is what it means for me. I create professional goals that are attainable within the confines of a 40 hour work week. I don’t try to bite off more than I can chew, I know my limits and I know my boundaries, and I’m learning how to say no. I really try to emphasize that. I’m really selective about the service initiatives that I take on. I’m often asked to do things, but I try to think about it, and I tell them in the moment, ‘Let me try to find time in my schedule for that,’ but what I’m really thinking is do I want to do this? Do I care enough about this job to do it well? That’s important to me, to be able to care enough about something to do it well.

I also take my time with research. This has always been my hardest thing, because you just want to publish. You’re working so hard on this thing, you just want to get it out there, but good work takes time, and the other thing I realized is a lot of the people that are in my field are at these R1 universities, and they’ll have different types of constraints on their time. So I’ve stopped comparing myself to other researchers, I’ve stopped feeling the pressure to publish just because that’s what good researchers do. Instead, I take my time to get things right and publish when I publish.

I also try to build relationships with people that I work with and my students. I teach a class of 230 students, and I try really hard to learn their names. I don’t ever accomplish it, but I usually get around 50, which I think is pretty good for that kind of class. And when I do that, I always get comments on my evaluations like, ‘Wow, she took the time to learn our names in this giant class, she obviously really cares.’ And I do! When they come into my office and I talk with them, I hear a little bit about their life, we talk physics, it’s great.

This is like my mantra: it’s really important to choose a job that works for me as much as I work for it. I really enjoy the flexibility of the academic life, but not in the same way that I thought I would. I thought academic life was flexible and I could work when I wanted, but I found out it didn’t work for me to do it that way, so I work a traditional 9-5. If I’m starting to work outside of that 40 hours, I ask myself, ‘Is this important enough that I need to do it right now, or can it actually wait?’

Finally, I try to make the best use of my time outside of work. And this means for me: getting sleep and exercise every day. Also a lot of adventuring in home improvement. I make time for these kinds of things. It means getting up and taking that morning run every day. That’s a priority. It means spending spring break in Sedona. Also means going on vacation in Hawaii with my family.

Now that I’ve completely just bragged about my amazing life, let me just say that there are struggles. Thinking about this talk, I was thinking about my struggles in grad school, and I remember a time when I was sitting in Dr. Knox’s office, and I was crying, because I was trying so hard to understand a concept in mechanics that everybody else seemed to grasp. I remember leaving my prelim exam after 45 minutes and walking around the building for 10 minutes, because I didn’t think I could solve a single problem. And I remember during my oral exam, when Dr. Cebra asked me a particularly tricky question, completely freezing and not knowing how to answer it. There are all these struggles in grad school, and there are the same kind of struggles when you are a faculty member. I haven’t cried in my department chair’s office- yet, but I do have frustrating meetings with the administration, I’ve been denied funding sometimes, many times in fact, and I've sometimes even felt like a bad teacher. And that’s double worse for me, because that’s also what my research is about. The struggles with graduate student life and faculty life have a lot of parallels between them, and this is something that you should think about when you’re deciding whether or not you want to pursue an academic career.

Finally, if you want a job at a CSU type school, there were lots of things that I did as a graduate student that I did to prepare myself for this kind of job that I didn’t realize I was doing at the time. I was a particularly active graduate student: I did a lot of extracurricular activities, which, turned out, look really great on a CV for search committees for potential faculty, especially at CSU. Because while they want you to be able to do research, they also want to see that you’re a person and that you’re going to join a community. Faculty jobs, when they’re choosing you, they’re choosing a colleague, hopefully for life. So they want a person, they want somebody who’s going to invest in the community. And I can say from sitting on both sides of the search committee.

One thing you can do now is get involved in some service. These are the things that I know are available to get involved with on campus: there’s the Graduate Teaching Community, Teaching Assistant Consultants, the Graduate Student Association, Professors for the Future, Chancellor's Advisory Board, and Graduate Students’ League are just some of the options available to you. I think they’re all still in existence. Another thing is you can do is ask to lecture during the summer. After you earn Master's degree, you can talk to some people, and if you have a connection, somebody might bestow on you the privilege to teach a summer Physics 7 course or Physics 9. That looks really great on your application- having some teaching experience in addition to being a TA is really useful. You can also attend workshops and do certificate programs. At the Center for Educational Effectiveness, you can do these certificate programs through there. The American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Physical Society, and also AAS have workshops that are for effective teaching in the discipline, and those are also really great things to attend. Sometimes they happen before or after the conference, so you should talk with your advisor if you’re going to one of these conferences and see if this is something you’d be able to add it to your itinerary while you’re there. The other thing to do is educate yourself on what your research says about effective teaching and learning. This is so you can talk the talk and you can have a great teaching philosophy, and you can also wow them on your teaching demonstration with all your wonderful knowledge of research-based practices.


Q: You’ve been both a candidate for and sitting on job committees, you know it’s very competitive to get positions. So, what are the three most important things you would suggest in an application? And another question, you can answer either one: what roles do gender and ethnicity play in hiring?

A: As for the first one: what are the things you can do on your job application? One thing that works for me, and I know people have other methods, is to spend a really long time, at least on that very first application, to spend a few weeks writing a teaching philosophy, sending it around different people, asking your advisor what they think about it. Same thing with your statement of research. Spend a lot of time on that: don’t just write something up and throw it out there to see if you’ve made the shot. I think I spent a month on my first application, and then the ones after that took a shorter period of time. That was one thing. I also think that it’s really helpful to tailor your cover letter to the specific program. What you don’t want to do is have a couple paragraphs about how amazing you are without talking about how your expertise is going to fit with their job call. So read the job call and use the words in the job call in your cover letter.

Dr. Knox: Can I just underscore that one? Because what we’re looking for is not just a person in a vacuum, but a person with a vision for what they’re going to do at our institution, so that’s important.

Maybe this was a little too detail oriented, but I do think it helped me: I reorganized my CV based on the job call: I sent a slightly different CV to each university, and that was because somebody would say they were interested in leadership opportunities, and someone would say they were interested in student research projects, so I would pull my CV apart and make the headings match that wording. That was one thing that I think really helped me too. I think that the number one thing to consider is that they aren’t looking for the best person, they’re looking for the best fit. So you need to sell yourself, you need to show them that you are a good fit for their institution.

The next question: how does gender and ethnicity play out in the search process? I will say that there is a lot of research that shows that if you are an underrepresented minority or a woman, you have a greater chance of being rejected from a job application. There is a lot of research that shows this. However, I will also say that, at least in my university, and this is on the other side that I can speak to, people are conscious of this bias and they try to make sure that it does not affect their decision. It’s never come down to a situation where we were like, ‘Oh, there’s this amazing person, and then there’s this other person that is the right color or gender,’ but we do discuss unconscious bias, and there are active efforts on campus to thwart it.

Q: When you arrived at Davis, did you come with the intention of doing physics education?

A: That’s a great question, and my story isn’t representative, but I’ll tell you my story. My story is that I was working on astrophysics at the University of Wyoming, I did my Master’s there. I studied quasars, I was so excited to do astronomy. I probably have a story similar to a lot of you. I loved astronomy growing up, my dad gave me a telescope when I was 3, it was our thing. But what I decided when I got there was that astronomy really looks like going through millions of spectra in a windowless lab. And that just didn't work with what I wanted to do every day. It’s not that all astronomers do that every day, but I realized that I was not really enjoying the research every day- I was enjoying the teaching. So I was thinking about what things I could do, I was thinking about applying to get my Master’s and applying to teach at community colleges, and then I just happened to have a friend who was in the graduate program in evolution and ecology here who as going through this same exact struggle. And she said, ‘You should come here, because Wendell Potter is here, and you could do your PhD in physics education research.’ So I applied.

Q: So you mentioned other things to do outside of just research and teaching that look good on job applications, like the Graduate Student Association and whatnot, so what about groups that give you those skills, but that the university may not be fond of? I’m in a graduate student union, and there's other groups that I’m in. I gain a lot of leadership skills and whatnot, but the university’s not happy with us, because there’s a lot of us who actively challenge them.

A: Wow, that’s a great question. I’ve actually never seen this played out, but if I were reviewing your application, I would see that as a plus. I can’t speak for all search committees, but I think having a role in some kind of organization where you are displaying leadership is a good thing rather than a minus. Also, you wouldn’t want to be accepted into a university that’s going to look down on something like that. Because if that’s something that you want to continue doing, you don’t actually want to be there. I think you should include it.

Q: One thing on your list was NSF review panels. So what did you want to say about that?

A: I wanted to talk about how I applied for an NSF grant, and amazingly, (I say amazingly because it was the first time I had applied for a grant, although I spent a lot of time on the application, so maybe not so amazing) but I amazingly, I got one, which is the first and only one I’ve gotten so far. Hopefully I’ll get a lot more after that. After I submitted that application, I sat on this committee, and I was in the room with this committee while we were debating all these applications and who should get funding, and the thing that I found most interesting about this process is how often we sort of had to go back and refer to what the call had said and whether or not this was actually meeting the call. So we had a lot of opinions, but when it came down to it, this is the same as the advice we were talking about for job applications: everybody has a great idea, and there’s also a lot of criticism you could give to any project. We’re not experts on judging these different proposals. Well, we are experts, but we’re not experts in your research. We don’t know your research, we don’t know all the reasons why you’re doing this. So, your job is definitely to make your case, but also, we had to often rely on what was written in the call.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Steven Guggenheimer: From UC Davis to Microsoft and Everything in Between

Steve Guggenheimer, class of '87, is now Corporate Vice President
for AI Business at Microsoft.
When you think of the many ways that physics changes the world could you imagine also changing the world through software? In Spring of 2017 we heard from UC Davis physics graduate Steve Guggenheimer. He discussed his path from UC Davis to being a corporate vice president at Microsoft where he leads teams of technologists and business leaders from all over the world.

Here we provide a brief bio, key points from his presentation, and then a partial transcript of his remarks.

Guggenheimer’s career path in a nutshell:
  • Earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physics at UC Davis in 1987, with emphasis on lasers
  • Did hands-on research work in high energy physics during summers at UC Davis
  • Interned at Livermore National Lab
  • Did contract research for Livermore through ARACOR after graduation
  • Worked at Spectra-Physics Lasers
  • While at Spectra-Physics earned a Master’s degree in Engineering Management at Stanford University
  • Interviewed at Microsoft on a whim
  • Worked in lots of departments at Microsoft to gain different skills
  • Became Corporate Vice President of the OEM Business, then CVP and Chief Evangelist, and later Corporate Vice President for AI Business
Key points from the presentation:

  • Get work experience during your university time; it is crucial for post-degree employment.
  • Try jobs outside of your comfort zone to gain new skill sets.
    • For example, Guggenheimer went from working hands on with lasers, to coding software, to marketing the software he was working on, to marketing other software, to working with customers and partners, to managing large teams, and more.
  • Use your time at university to learn how to learn.
    • If you don’t know much about a field you want to go into, read books, do research, and talk to people in that field.
  • Learn how to communicate and use your connections with people effectively.
    • Help people around you -- it will usually pay off.
    • Take classes about writing, communication, and business during university.
  • Be self-aware: use your early work experience to figure out what you like and don't like.
    • Don’t expect to have it all figured out as soon as you graduate.
  • Keep a growth mindset, be careful not to fall into a stagnant routine.
    • Read ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck.
  • Keep up to date with relevant news and publications, as technical fields change rapidly.
    • If you work with technology, take time to understand how it works and why it’s useful to consumers.
  • If you’re looking to build a startup, many large companies have resources available, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses: make sure to play to your own strengths and identify your weaknesses.

Partial Transcript:

Let me talk to you about my journey. When I was here, there were two things that became the norm: either go into the navy and work on a nuclear sub, or go get your PhD and become a professor. Neither of those was the right fit for me. And so it was a bit of a struggle to say, ‘Okay, what do you go and do?’ I’d earned this awesome degree, but when you go through the help wanted, at least in those days, there wasn’t any, ‘Hey: Looking for Someone with a Physics Degree.’

I’ve had the opportunity at Microsoft to work through all three generations of our CEOs: with Bill, with Steve, and with Satya, and I still work pretty closely with them today. And I would not have gotten there without the background I got here.

So how did I get to where I am today? It all starts with work: real world experience. I’ll tell you this: if you go out with a B.S. in applied physics or a B.S. in physics and you haven’t done any work, nobody will even talk to you, you’ll be flat out of luck. When I was here, sophomore year summer, I spent the summer working, helping make muon detectors and building circuit boards for the linear accelerator at Stanford. I did that for free, just to get experience.  I spent my sophomore summer here working in a lab, building even larger versions of the circuit boards. Junior year, internship at Livermore. By senior year I was specialized on lasers. I got my government clearance for Livermore, and some of the professors here were trying to do research at Los Alamos who didn’t have the clearance, so I actually could go run the experiments at Los Alamos National Labs for them.

After I graduated, I struggled, despite the work experience. I sent out at least 30 different resumes to different companies with no success.  I had some interest in going back to Livermore, but because I didn’t have my PhD, the best I could do was mech tech: a mechanical technician. I like working in the machine shop, but I aspired to a little more. So I found that there was a research company called ARACOR that did contract research back to Livermore, and I took that job. I was trying to get into lasers, because that was my focus here, all my applied physics classes were on lasers. There were some good professors here. Then, because I’d worked at Livermore, and because I’d actually spent some time building a laser lab there, I got an interview at Spectra-Physics. And because the guy who interviewed me had actually put that system together, I got a job there.

I spent five years at at Spectra-Physics with lasers, working in the lab, building things, doing marketing, etcetera, and I went back to grad school during that period of time. I got my Masters, and then it was like ‘hmmm.’ Actually, that was a funny point in time. The number one thing the Masters taught me was that I could actually work in other industries. Holy crud! I thought I’d never do anything but lasers. So I thought, ‘It would be nice to move to the northwest, I like it up there.’ Traffic here kind of sucked in those days, in the Bay Area.

I realized I wanted to work for a number one or two company, and I wanted to change industries before I got too far down the path in the laser industry. So I applied to Nike and Microsoft. Turns out physics, and my background, was closer to software than it was tennis shoes, so I went up to Microsoft. Didn’t know anything about it. I mean, I’d worked with computers; I was using an Apple at the time, we ran LabVIEW in the lab, but really, no clue what I was getting into. But that ability to translate technical to customer, which I’d done a lot with the laser side, that was what got me in. Over my career I’d worked in lots of different areas. But we’ll come back to that, that slow transition from being more technical and more hands-on to being essentially a translator between the technical side and what customers want to do, both in building products and then ultimately in building ecosystems. And that’s been the journey. Let me go through a couple other points, and it should come to life.

So my uber point on this is, and we can come back in q&a: work experience. Like, if anyone comes to me, I don’t care whether they’re out of college, or high school, or grad school. If you haven’t spent some time doing work, like building things, and it doesn’t have to be perfectly aligned to your major, you have to do that. And the world’s pretty good today about pushing people to internships, but in my era, the reason we ended up heading into grad school or heading into the navy was because it was not pushed as hard, getting that work experience. That allowed me to differentiate myself. I also got lucky: frankly, a chunk of it’s luck.

Another point is to take a chance and try new things. For me, that was moving to the northwest to go work for a software company.

In my career at Microsoft, I’ve gone back and forth from building products to actually working in the field organizations; living in the UK, trying different parts. I always coach people to stretch as far as you can away from what you’re doing today, as much as people will give you that latitude. And it’s hard. Take my initial starting position of doing technical marketing for Windows. Well, they might let me do partner marketing for Windows, or technical marketing for Office. They’re not going to let me go run the small business ecosystem. So you take these one step jumps, one degree of separation from what you’ve done. Sooner or later, somebody will let you take two degrees. Then three degrees. Then finally you get known for a skill set: hiring people, external speaking, leadership, the ability to translate technical to business, how to bridge between developers and customers. And then they’re willing to take chances: ‘Okay, go build the hardware ecosystem,’ ‘Go build the software ecosystem.’ I recently moved into the AI team to go help build a new business. That ability to do new things comes from stretchong yourself: you go as far away from what you know how to do and your comfort zone as people will let you.  They’re going to try and keep you somewhat close, so you’ve got to press them to led you stretch. Sometimes I took jobs that were more sideways, and people were moving up their career faster. But in the long run, that stretching has paid off, at least for me.

Learn how to learn. Physics doesn’t need to be the end goal. It can be; it could be an awesome career, but what I do today, what physics taught me, at least over my course, is how to be fairly confident to go learn anything. And that ability to learn, to know when you actually don’t know and to be comfortable understanding what you don’t know, and be willing to go ask and do the work necessary to learn -- physics is really good for that. And then the fundamentals, that ability to translate technology to customers. I don’t care whether it’s artificial intelligence,, how you build a game, or anything else. That core fundamental understanding that you get from your physics is incredibly valuable. That ability to use it, to translate it to something else, takes a little work from each one of you. So that comfort level, learning how to learn, and then wanting to stretch yourself and figure out what you have passion for, is the key.

The next thing is people matter. I live on computers and phones like everybody else, but face to face, in person, the network matters as you’re going through all those little work experiences along the way. The person that ultimately looked at my resume at Spectra-Physics had actually done some work at Livermore, in the place that I’d worked. The reason the person at Livermore hired me was because I was studying applied physics with lasers here at UC Davis, had that connection, and I’d worked in some of the labs here. So I had experience. Those little red threads that tie together, they matter. And people matter. So as you’re going through even this point in your life and the rest, what you do on social networks, what you say to people, where you piss people off, where you make friends, it has a long tail. So my advice to you as you’re younger: do less of what I did. I had a really sharp edge and I created challenges and hurdles for myself along the way, but fortunately I created some red threads as well.

And then there is self awareness. Do what you love and love what you do. That’s probably the hardest thing. You’ll learn more about what you don’t like in your career in the beginning than what you do like. It’s pretty lucky if you stumble upon it in college or in your first or second job, or like me fairly early in my career at Microsoft. By stumble on it I mean to feel that your current job is it, it's the one you want to do your whole life.

You have to be self aware enough to say ‘Ah, I like this part of what I’m doing, I don’t like this part, I’m going to go tune this way, or I like the way this person manages their leads, I don’t like this.’ And tune and tailor. Physics is about learning and teaching you how to learn. You have to have that self awareness to always be learning, and then that comfort level to figure it out. Figure out what you want to spend your energy and your time on. Because if you don’t love it, you won’t be great at it. And it may feel obvious right now, but ten years in, five years in, it may be less obvious. Take risks, go where you’re not comfortable at times to learn more. I’m fortunate that I get the opportunity to do what I want. I ran the ecosystems. I got the chance to go work on AI. I sit on some boards now and generally help startups when I can. But that’s through a long journey. Also, I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at. And that makes a difference.

I am going to show you one video that’s related to physics and doing things that you love. One of the things about where I work is that we get to make a difference, good or bad. You can hate us, you can love us, you can hate Google, you can love Google, etcetera; the impact on society is pretty unique. That ability to affect society; you’re in a generation and an era where you can. This is a video from one of researchers that we get to work with that bring some of these things to life:

We live in a pretty incredible age. I spent the last 20 years watching computer storage and networking get more ubiquitous, better, more available. The ability to use tools now: artificial intelligence, IOT, big data, etcetera, to amplify human capability, that’s pretty impressive. It will continue to be, way past my time. It will be for your generations and the generations after too. But shoot high: don’t underestimate. Haiyan’s a researcher at our Cambridge lab, and we do a lot of fundamental research. You guys have a chance and a set of tools to work with that we didn’t, and we had a set of tools to work with that the generation before us didn’t. You can do amazing things, you can work places where you can sort of have real impact on society at any level. It’s heavy, but positive at the same time.