Alumni Spotlight | June 2014
KU major:Physics & Computer Science, Class of 2005
Current occupation: Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley
Research mentor while at KU: Adrian Melott and Greg Hackman
Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU: I started out as a computer science major and was fortunate enough to run across two excellent mentors while pursuing my degree: Greg Hackman, professor of physics at the time, and Adrian Melott. Both showed me the power of using computers to answer scientific questions in diverse realms of physics, which led to me adding physics as a second major. I worked closely with Dr. Melott for two years, during which time we explored ways to estimate how dense the universe is by comparing computer simulation with experiment.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: I learned two crucial things: first, the power of computational science, and second, and more importantly, how exciting it is to be immersed in a vibrant scientific community by attending meetings and presenting posters. Textbooks don't capture a fraction of how exciting it is to do science and pursue the unknown; it is invaluable to experience this as an undergraduate.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research?
A: Do it! Conducting research as an undergraduate lets you see across the divide between professors and students. Moreover, you will get to see research in action. It's also important to work with multiple mentors if at all possible so you can see different styles of mentorship and research - these can vary wildly. Don't be intimidated by professors - they are just people too!
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: Since I'm a scientist currently, I use these skills every day. Even if I pursued a different career path the skills would have been useful though. Learning how to think critically and problem solve in the realm of the unknown is relevant to nearly any profession.
Q: Many undergraduate researchers are making decisions about what to do after they graduate from KU. Having been in those shoes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Do you have any advice?
A: As an undergraduate at Kansas if you apply yourself and excel you can be competitive with graduates from any university. Push boundaries, follow your dreams, and seek out opportunities relevant to your goals, whether they are formally advertised or not.