Posters, Panels, and Physics

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Meeting Notes - SPS Reporters at Science Conferences

Posters, Panels, and Physics

The APS March Meeting 2017, March 13-17, New OrLeans, LA


Bethany Campbell, SPS Member

University of West Florida

This was my first time attending the APS March Meeting, and I quite enjoyed it! I have previously attended CUWiP (Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics) at Georgia Tech, so I was very excited to finally go to a March Meeting.

I presented a poster, “Exploring K-12 Mathematics Course Progression: Implications for Collegiate Success in Florida,” and also attended an informative panel on working in industry.

Industry Panel 

This panel was designed to answer questions about working in industry. We heard from Dr. Erik Lucero at Google, Mr. Raja Rajasekaran from TOPTICA Photonics, Dr. Tiffany Santos from Western Digital, Dr. Pavel Kornilovich from HP Inc., and Dr. Krysta Svore from Microsoft.

Among the questions asked:

“When you do research, is your name still on your work, or is it under the company’s name?”

The general consensus was that your name is still attached to the work—you are encouraged to apply for a patent and then your name will be listed as the inventor. It is difficult to publish research in journals, but panelists emphasized that patents are just as valuable as papers and that it brings them great satisfaction to see their work as a tangible product in use.

“Did you feel pressured to get a PhD just because you don’t have technical expertise for a job?”

Panelists emphasized that employers don’t always expect you to have the exact expertise they are looking for; rather, they desire candidates that have proven they can learn and adapt.

“How valuable are post-docs before industry jobs?”

Panelists agreed that post-docs are still valuable, even if you plan on going straight into industry. Post-docs are also a good entry point into a company. Dr. Svore expressed that she felt as though she may not have been offered a permanent position had she not done a post-doc with Microsoft first. However, she also added the caveat that if one knows exactly what they want to do, perhaps a post-doc is not worth it.

“How should we decide which field to focus on?”

Panelists encouraged us to pursue whatever we are passionate about and can see ourselves spending significant time on. They emphasized that interdisciplinary research is critical and not to be afraid of getting involved in emerging fields! Dr. Steven Lambert (the session’s facilitator) added that he had no idea what field he wanted to go into before he actually went into industry.

“I’m not going to graduate school. What can I expect with just a bachelor’s degree in industry?”

Panelists said that the vast majority of their colleagues hold doctorate degrees. However, they also agreed your opportunities really depend on the specific company. Some companies may encourage movement and development, and may even pay for one to continue their education! While some companies, such as Microsoft, may hire many people with just a bachelor’s degree, others may not.

“You all come from very prestigious universities—what about people from ordinary universities?”

As a student from an “ordinary” university, this question was of particular interest to me. The panel members all had exceptional backgrounds. The only panel member who had a response to this question was Dr. Kornilovich, who said that at HP Inc. in Oregon, they really value local people and that management wants to retain local hires. It was good to hear that major companies will hire local students. I know of companies down here in Northwest Florida that do the same, but it was slightly disheartening that there was not more feedback for us “ordinary university” students.

The remainder of the questions focused on work-life balance, the existence (or lack thereof) of the “forty-hour workweek,” and opportunities for outreach and teaching. The responses were overall positive, with panel members saying that the forty-hour workweek definitely can exist, and that companies actually encourage outreach in the community through affiliate faculty positions at universities, lecture/tutorial series, and mentoring programs.

All in all, the March Meeting was a great time. Our younger undergraduates took advantage of the graduate school fair, and everyone took advantage of the technology and job expo. I’m looking forward to next year—see you in Los Angeles! //

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