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Spotlight on Hidden Physicists
Sam Montgomery, Sigma Pi Sigma, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Chapter, 2016
I didn’t gravitate toward physics until slightly later in my academic life. In fact, the first physics class I ever took was in college! My initial scholarly hopes and dreams lay in the Earth sciences, which tempted me with their flashy rocks and field-trip-heavy curricula. However, what physics presented was an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research in fields like astronomy, atmospheric science, materials engineering, and Earth science. Physics opened up a Safari Zone of exciting possibilities, and I just had to get in on the action.
Being active in research during my time as an undergraduate at New Mexico Tech kept me enthusiastic about completing the grueling coursework. Over the years I was involved in research projects ranging from imaging ionized hydrogen near supermassive black holes to modeling brain rhythms present in Alzheimer’s disease. One summer I interned with the American Physical Society’s education and diversity department. The colorful plumage of possibilities I had hoped to achieve in physics seemed to be doable.
After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I got a job as a technician at a smell-recognition lab in Duke University’s Department of Neurobiology. The scholastic adaptability I had inherited as a physicist equipped me with the confidence and skill set to integrate into my new laboratory setting. Coming to work every day where I was part of a productive scientific community was fantastic, and it really filled me with a sense of accomplishment. However, over time I realized that even with this achievement I was missing that feeling of fulfillment. I was very satisfied with what I had accomplished as a scientist, and it was time to start exploring the other dimensions of myself.
My passion for baking developed at home. From an early age, I remember helping my mom bake scones for breakfast on the weekends. Today I’m in charge of baking Duffeyrolls at Duffeyroll Cafe and Bakery in Denver. Duffeyrolls are flakey and extravagant cinnamon rolls that are renowned across Colorado. Each morning I bake hundreds of Duffeyrolls. I’ve been an at-home baker for so long that I’m excited to be working in a real bakery! It’s very fulfilling to spend a morning preparing delicious treats that you know will make other people happy.
Similarities between physicists and bakers may seem scarce at first glance, but I’ve found that the professions use some similar skills. As a physicist, I honed my eye for detail and developed an aptitude for quantitative reasoning, both of which are needed to be a strong baker. Bakers make precise measurements, exercise problem solving, and are awake at all hours of the night, so having a physics degree in my repertoire prepared me beautifully. Rolling pins, dough pullers, and buckets of flour now fill a workspace that had previously been cluttered with circuit boards, voltmeters, and mice brains.
The biggest challenge of becoming a baker has been completely revamping my sleep schedule. Most shifts start at 2 a.m., and the next several hours are spent doing very physically demanding work. It’s a small space, so when the store is busy and all of my coworkers are running around tending to orders, things can get a little hectic. While this can cause a bit of stress, it also gives me the opportunity to adapt to the fast-paced habitat of the culinary world. Of course, COVID-19 arrived with its own entourage of challenges this year. At work its imprint is undeniable, with everyone wearing masks, social distancing, and dealing with the current unpredictable business climate.
Now on any given day if you were to come to my home you would likely find me baking some baguettes or maybe one of my signature dessert tarts! As I move forward with my career as a professional baker, I’m excited to start the next chapter of my story. Although I’ve exchanged my lab coat for an apron, I will always continue to draw upon my background as a physicist.
My advice to aspiring physicists: Strive for multidimensionality in your research and in your life. The universe is unapologetically interdisciplinary, so make sure you have more than just physics in your intellectual tool belt.