July 1, 2015
At some point in your life you will be confronted with diverging paths in the woods. As you’re standing there contemplating your decision, you might notice that each path seems just as fair as the other. Which one should you take? My suggestion? Take the one less traveled by; it makes all the difference. Trust me, I’m a doctor. Well, almost ...
I have taken a slightly different path to graduate school than most of my colleagues. In 2004 I received my bachelor’s degree in physics from West Point. I then promptly framed my diploma, hung it on my wall, and put on an Army uniform every day for the next five years. For the better part of those five years, graduate school was the last thing on my mind. That is not to say I wasn’t still passionate about physics. I most certainly was. It was just that I had a job, and that job was my life.
However, as tends to happen, my priorities changed. I didn’t see myself wearing a uniform for 15 more years. So in 2009 I did what any sensible 26-year-old soon-to-be-veteran would do. I resigned my commission, moved back to East Lansing and spent a few months trying to figure out what to do with my life.
You see, I grew up in this town. My family has bled green and white since we moved here in 1991. However, for as much green as there was in my veins, I knew very little about the academic side (the important side) of Michigan State.
I knew I wanted to pursue a career in physics, but I really had no idea to which university I should apply. As I began researching institutions I kept seeing Michigan State University’s name appearing at the top of most of the lists. It seemed like the perfect choice. I was going to get an extremely high-quality advanced education and wouldn’t have to wear some other college’s logo on my chest. So I applied and was accepted to the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
At that point I had been out of academia for almost seven years. My mathematical skills had atrophied to the point where I had to re-teach myself calculus. I re-read most of my undergraduate textbooks and studied, quite honestly, more in four months than I had in four years as an undergraduate.
The hard work paid off. I passed my entrance exam and subsequent subject exams. It was around this time I was looking to pick a specialty. Particle physics was always what had most interested me most about physics. “You mean there are these tiny things called particles that we can never ‘see’ but can use massive detectors to infer their presence and measure their attributes?! I like big toys; sign me up!”
It was in the high energy physics group that I met Chip Brock. Well, met is the wrong word. I had attended high school with Chip’s son and as my middle and high school baseball coach Chip was constantly reminding me the importance of “hitting the cutoff man.” As a kid I was vaguely even aware that he was a physicist. To me he was simply Coach Brock.
I have been working with Chip for a number of years now. That big toy I mentioned earlier has a name – ATLAS (part of CERN). It sits on the border between Switzerland and France and has allowed us to pull back the curtains of the universe and stare out the window into the great unknown.
I may have meandered down the path a bit, but from where I’m standing now the view is amazing.