The Department of Physics & Astronomy held the Physics & Astronomy Alumni Career Panel on Feb. 1. The panel consisted of five successful alumni who all graduated with degrees in physics and/or astronomy.
The event featured Kenneth Gulick ’90, Dana Lehr ’93, David McDermott ’08, Bev Rogers ’08, and Rob Trangucci ’09. Each panelist had different experiences following their graduation from the University, but each seemed to agree that the most important thing for an undergraduate student to know is that it is crucial to follow your own interests, no matter how they change as you get older or deviate from your plan.
“If you like what you’re learning, you will find a way to get paid to do it. Stubbornness will get you a long way,” Lehr said. Lehr currently serves as Vice President for Programs for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), a nonprofit organization that manages and operates large ground-and space-based telescope facilities.
McDermott, a neurosurgical resident at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said that it was considered unusual for a physics major to go to medical school after graduating college. Yet, McDermott values his degree in physics because it made him stand out to interviewers; his experience as a physics major at the University was the main reason interviewers were interested in him.
“You’ll have those roadblocks, and those times when you’ll be the first one to do it … and don’t be afraid of that,” McDermott said, referring to having a career that doesn’t quite align with your degree.
The panel “was a great way to get in contact with interesting alumni and explore possibilities I never really considered as a physics major,” Cameron Williams ’18 said.
“It’s really important, as students, to have role models and leaders outside of your classroom,” Helena Yoest ’19 said.
Though it’s great to have a professor who is really invested in you, Yoest said, it’s entirely different, in a beneficial way, to have a non-biased, third–party opinion to learn from.
“Especially as a freshman, it’s easy to get trapped into the mindset of ‘whatever major I first choose is going to cement my future in place for the next 15 years!’ Talking with the panelists helped dispel a lot of the tension and worry I had about whether or not physics was the right major for me,” Yoest said.