22 Tips for Physics Major Success

Listen to is blog post through the Resilient in STEM podcast!

Before I was a senior scientist developing lithium ion batteries, I was once a physics major. Can you believe it??

I have my bachelors in physics (with a minor in music and a Masters in materials science and engineering). When I started as a physics major I had no clue what was in store for me or what it really meant to be a physics major. All I knew is that I liked music, science, and math, and physics seemed super interesting and challenging. I was curious about spacetime, black holes, string theory, dark matter, and all these mysteries of our universe! 

Looking back, I wish I had some extra advice because I did not recognize some of the more toxic qualities of the physics culture until much later in my education, though I suffered from the symptoms throughout my time in college.

As a physics major, whenever I introduced myself and what I studied people would ALWAYS give me a surprised look and response. They’d reply “A PHYSICS major?!?” in shock or surprise as if I had just turned water to wine, or question why a “pretty girl like me” would study such a subject. At first it felt flattering to receive feedback that I “must be smart”, but over time it made me hesitate when telling someone what I studied because the reply was almost always annoying and emotionally tolling; I sometimes felt the other person wanted me to explain myself as if I had to justify why I picked the major. Now, I see that this type of response is a microaggression, and a form of harassment that added to my feelings that I didn’t belong in physics.

It’s obvious that physics lacks diversity and inclusion, especially for those of us in the field. From the moment I started as a physics major, from the make-up of my classes (often I was the only or only 1 of 2 women in a classroom) I felt like I must represent all women and prove myself worthy of being called a physicist. The problem was, I would try to conform how I dressed and acted, trading in my authenticity to try to be respected. It never worked because true belonging comes when you stay true to yourself and are given acceptance for your authentic self (Thanks Brené Brown!). Harassment and bias continued no matter how hard I tried to conform.

Harassment is so normalized in society that I did not recognize it for years. Once I did realize I was being harassed, I felt like if I spoke up that I would be seen as problematic and that I wouldn’t make the networking connections I needed for my career. It felt scary to speak up or report as I thought it would put the career I was working toward into jeopardy.

With the harassment, bias, and microaggressions, plus looking different as a woman in my field, I had a hard time feeling like I belonged in physics. My self doubt grew (even though I was a top performer in my classes), and I shied away from forming professional relationships with many of my professors.

The following tips come from my perspective as a female physicist as I look back on the lessons I have learned:

Study Tips (5)

  • You don’t have to be a genius to study physics. Everyone’s jaw will drop when you tell them your major, and in a workplace people still find physics majors impressive; however, there are probably many times you will feel like you aren’t smart enough or aren’t tough enough to be a physicist. The truth is that you do not have to be exceptionally smart to do well in your science career. Seeing failure and being wrong as learning moments is far more important. Keep learning and trying. Perseverance is more important than being a genius.

  • Read the textbook! It helps prepare you for each lecture AND often problems from the textbook (or similar) end up being exam questions.

  • Form study groups with your colleagues. It’s great to develop lifelong friendships and connections for future career success. Don’t be shy if you’re the minority in the group; everyone is just learning and growing as an undergraduate! If colleagues do ever harass you or treat you disrespectfully, you also don’t have to put up with that behavior and should address it right away. (See this post for more information on navigating inappropriate behavior.)
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to learn ALL of physics as a physics major. As an undergraduate, you’ll get a broad overview of many subfields of physics, and learn how to problem solve and learn how to find information. If any one subfield of physics interests you, read papers and get involved in research on that topic to explore your curiosity and see if you would like to go into a career related to that topic!

  • Fall in love with the beauty of math, but learn all the tools you can use to simplify your work. If you really enjoy calculus and thinking deeply about applying mathematics to scientific concepts, it’s a good major for you! Calculators and programming languages that help you perform complex calculations will make life easier for you in school and in your career.

Career Tips (9)

  • A physics major gives you the skills to problem-solve and succeed in nearly any field, but especially ones related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You have options for your career! Take the time as an undergraduate to learn about and do research in various fields to follow your curiosity and see which subfield you want to specialize in.

  • Know how a degree in physics will set you apart from other science and engineering majors, and use that to leverage job opportunities. Compared with chemists and engineers and other STEM majors, you will be more comfortable with mathematical concepts and formulas and derivations once you enter the working world. Coding is likely easier for you because of this- you only really need to learn the languages themselves, since you will have already learned the mathematical concepts involved in coding. And btw just learn coding – you might as well. I’ve heard it phrased that physics majors can do a job 88% as well as other science and engineering and math majors , but can do a variety of things that those majors can’t necessarily do. You’re versatile and a problem solver, understanding the connections between physical phenomena. It’s great for someone who wants to go into project management or systems engineering.  

  • Learn how to pitch yourself to a potential employer or graduate school advisor. You may have to find creative ways of explaining your skills to people and what you are capable of since it may not be obvious to them. The skills and knowledge of physics majors are not well understood by the general public.  

  • Take time to learn about different types of work environments through internships and research experiences. While you may be interested in one subfield of physics (let’s say materials for quantum computing) you can work in a variety of locations. Amazon (a large global company) has position for quantum materials scientists, as do national labs, academic research labs, and other mid-sized, small companies and start-ups. Different work environments have different cultures and work-flows; finding which types of work environments you can thrive in is just as important as picking the industries you want to enter for your career.

  • In many universities, professors uphold the opinion that pursuing a PhD in physics and continuing on to become a physics professor is the most noble and best type of career to have in physics. While there is nothing wrong with becoming a physics professor, there are so many other options and in reality there are very few positions for physics professors. Not all physics majors can go on to be physics professors. It’s perfectly okay to choose to go into industry, pursue graduate school in a different field (I went into materials science and engineering!) or work at a national lab. Do what you want to do, and take others’ opinions with a grain of salt.

  • Form positive, supportive professional relationships with colleagues and professors. They are your network for your career! Physics is a small world, and you’ll likely work with at least a couple of them at some point in your professional career. This is another reason why attending study groups, joining physics societies and clubs, and office hours are important; growing those relationships early on is great! If you feel like your colleagues and professors harass you or treat you with disrespect, know that there are many many other people in physics and related field. Pursue relationships outside of your university with people who are supportive, or consider transferring to a different university with a more supportive and nurturing environment.

  • Study the physics GRE early if you want to go to graduate school for physics to get a good score!
  • Take advantage of hands-on learning experiences like internships and research experiences. In these opportunities, read scientific papers, learn that specific field, and ask for help if you need it. As an undergraduate student, you are not expected to know everything, but showing that you’re interested and doing the work to learn goes a long way in getting you mentors and other opportunities. Your first internship or research experience will be the most difficult to get, but after that it will get easier to find opportunities. Try not to be too picky for your first experience, but at the same time be mindful about what you do or don’t like, and try to pursue what interests you most. Which leads us to…

  • Think global, act local, and maintain a growth mindset. Don’t limit your options as you proceed in your field. You have options for grad school study- I went on into materials science and engineering to have a more applied science education for a career in energy materials research. Others can go into a wide array of grad school disciplines or even teach! You don’t have to stay in physics for graduate school or your career when you graduate, although that may be what your professors and colleagues push you to do.

Culture Tips (8)

  • Physics is its own culture. It has its own unwritten rules that you must learn, but at the same time recognize where it is toxic. For instance, many physics programs can feel exclusive, hierarchal, patriarchal, and domineering. Many within physics claim it is an objective field of study and does not have problems internally, but when you look at the demographics it’s obvious many people aren’t permitted to persist in the field (like women and people of color). The more you become aware of the culture, the more you can see how YOU are not problematic, which can help alleviate feelings of self doubt, imposter’s syndrome, and the sense that you don’t belong. Also, just because the culture of physics can be toxic, does not mean that you deserve to be treated with disrespect or inappropriate behavior. As I mentioned earlier, please document, speak up, and report any instances of microaggressions or harassment.

  • Pick a university where you’ll be supported. Not all university physics programs are the same in their culture. The state university I attended for my undergraduate degree had a culture that supported students, while the research university I attended for graduate school placed more emphasis on research. This meant that the majority of professors were more nurturing at my undergraduate institution than my graduate institution. Depending on your needs as a student, you want a university where you will thrive and grow! Prestige of a university or program does not necessarily make it the best fit for you!

  • Physics has its own culture and values, and because of its male-dominant makeup and historical ties to militarism, these values reflect the majority-group. For instance, there’s an emphasis on understanding nature in order to control it so that one can profit and have power. The way research is structured and even the topics of research that receive grant funding reflect this value system. More funding is given to research that has a monetary gain than research that is only for pure intellectual pursuit. Many fields are highly competitive within physics because of limited funding. Older and more prominent institutions and research groups typically get the most funding because of their historically high publishing rate and the connections of the principle investigator (or PI). So, if you do want to go into a more competitive sub-field of physics, you’ll want to study in those universities with those specific research groups.

  • Physics is big field and each subfield has its own culture and values. Gain research experience in different labs and internships to learn about each culture and find what suits you. Read papers even if you just struggle through them and have to google every word. (Bonus points if you read your professors’ papers and ask them questions about their research during office hours!)

  • Gaslighting is, unfortunately, very prevalent in STEM fields. Trust your gut and intuition rather than your professors or other people you look up to. Some professors may be incredibly technically brilliant, but can be manipulative, unhelpful, or even abusive. If you feel like a professor is treating you badly, they probably are; you don’t deserve that kind of treatment. For instance, if someone tells you that you don’t belong in physics or that you don’t have what it takes to be a research scientist or be successful, don’t listen to them! They are simply telling you they don’t support you, and you should seek other relationships mentors and colleagues that do support you!

  • If you are a woman, be mindful of pressures to do outreach and education and choose what is best for you. If you want to research, stick to research gaining research experience. I felt like my professors gave me many opportunities in education and outreach, and, while it did help me grow my leadership skills, it did take time away from growing my research experience. It’s ok to say no to opportunities that won’t positively serve you, and focus instead on what will actually help you grow in your career.

Physics is definitely a challenging field, and even more so if you’re a minority; however, that should definitely not deter you from pursuing that physics major! I am grateful that I made the decision to major in physics; I learned amazing things, met incredible life-long friends, and landed my dream-job of being a scientist! Studying physics opens up a world of opportunities, and is a great choice of a major for someone who likes to be challenged intellectually. There are many high-paying job opportunities for physics majors! I make 6-figures with a BS in physics and MS in materials science and engineering. And, if you want to grow more wealth, a physics degree sets you up to be able to understand technical industries so that you can become a business owner or investor.

Overall, remember that you know what is best for you, and a major in physics is just the beginning of your career. You’re new, so it’s normal and okay to not have everything figured out and not know everything about physics. Take advantage of all the opportunities offered to you, ask for help when you need it, and stay true to yourself!

If you’d like extra support on your career journey, we would love to have you join Resilient in STEM, a supportive online community that can help you navigate those difficult situations in your career journey!

Video on Tips for Physics Majors on YouTube Channel Across the Nanoverse!

For more information on navigating a career in STEM, check out “Resilient in STEM” the podcast HERE!

Ask Jill: My boss talks over me in meetings. What do I do?

Dear Unheard but Proactive,

Good for you for asking what you can do in the case that your boss talks over you in a meeting! I have seen many people cope with this by staying silent, hushing their voice and giving up their power. Just the fact that you are asking this shows that you do want to contribute to your team and organization. You being proactive, that quality alone, demonstrates that you are a valuable asset to your company. I hope you fully realize that!

I wish you had a better example of leadership. I am seriously stumped when management fails to apply simple yet powerful techniques to get the best out of their team. Unfortunately, many fall victim to playing politics and letting insecurities get in the way of doing their job well (and being a better person). I could hypothesize all day about WHY they are interrupting you, not letting you speak. I am sure you are smart enough to determine why they are doing this repeatedly to you (which, I’m sure, includes a pinch of unconscious bias). Men love to talk over women, even if they fail to be aware of it.

In order to begin figuring out what to do, ask yourself 3 questions:
  1. How does being talked over make you feel?
  2. What resolution to this situation do you want?
  3. How is this negatively impacting your work?

The first two questions assess the most important factor: you and your health and wellbeing. If this happened to me, I’d feel unappreciated and unvalued. I would probably feel frustrated or angry too. And for the resolution, I would want them to stop and let me speak.

Mendelberg Discusses Her Research in TIME on Women Being Interrupted: 'Mr.  Vice President, I'm Speaking.' | Center for the Study of Democratic  Politics (CSDP)

Because I would feel unappreciated my work would likely suffer. It’s like they’re doing my job for me. What is my purpose if I cannot provide input in meetings? Does my boss value my expertise?

If I felt comfortable bringing it up with my boss, I would talk to them about it and use the third answer to inform how I approach the topic. A big tip in discussing workplace issues with a manager, advisor, or boss is to phrase the problem in a way where it reveals how it negatively affects them. If possible, do not phrase the issue in a way where you highlight how it’s making you feel. Unless your boss is empathetic and understands that how an employee feels is directly related to their performance, they may misinterpret what you say as your feelings being the problem, not the quality of your work when you are interrupted.

One things all your managers care about (or should care about) is the quality of your work. This includes decreased productivity, not meeting deadlines on-time, and errors in work. The quality of your work directly impacts their own performance as your boss.

When talking to my boss about this issue, I would state how when they speak for you in meetings it prevents you from doing your job. Let them know that you’ve got it covered, and, while you appreciate their input, you feel like you cannot share your expertise in meetings with their interjections. Hopefully they will listen and proactively refrain from continuing their behavior.

Your feelings about this are definitely valid, and I am glad you have awareness that this situation is negatively affecting you. It is important when we feel unsafe, uncomfortable, frustrated, or angry that we identify the root cause, and take action to address the issue in a way that positively serves you (and your organization, company, or university). Brushing off “little” incidents when you feel talked over can lead to further repurcussions like self-doubt, low self-efficacy, and even anxiety.

In the case that you do not feel comfortable talking with your boss about this issue, why not? Are you holding yourself back from engaging in a health professional relationship out of fear? Or, does this boss have a track-record of microaggressions, harassment or abuse? If it is the former, step outside your comfort-zone; you may be pleasantly surprised by their response to you bringing up this issue. If it is the latter, I encourage you to definitely report any and all instances of harassment to Human Resources (or the person/office you should report issues to at your organization).

You deserve to feel safe and comfortable in your workplace or school environment.

Thank you for your question!



If you would like to submit a question to “Ask Jill” you can direct message me on Instagram, or email stemthriveguides@gmail.com your question with the Subject Line: Ask Jill.

Ask Jill: Should I request a letter of recommendation from abusive graduate advisor?

Dear former graduate student seeking new (and better!) opportunities,

I am sorry you’re facing these unnecessary challenges when all you want is to reach your goals and secure that next step in your field. I, unfortunately, know exactly how you feel.

I had an abusive graduate advisor, and when I left graduate school I worried that I would be ineligible for opportunities without that glowing letter of recommendation.

  • Should I reach out and request a letter even though it triggered me to be in touch with my former advisor?
  • Even if they did write the letter, would it be filled with all the negative energy this advisor directed toward me during my years in their lab group?
If I were you, here is what I would do:

First, 3 questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you feel unsafe or uncomfortable when interacting with your former advisor?
  2. How honest can you be with the future employer that’s asking for the letter?
  3. Will your advisor write a negative letter of recommendation for you?

You should definitely not subject yourself to further abuse from this person. This advisor had the opportunity to provide the bare minimum level of support and guidance and failed miserably, instead using you as a punching-bag for their insecurities or outlet for their anger. This was absolutely not your fault. You never deserve to be treated this way. Avoid interacting with your former advisor, especially if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable doing so.

Did your workplace specifically request a letter of recommendation from your former advisor, or will a letter from a different professor or staff member suffice? In the case that they want a letter from your advisor, or question why the letter is not from your advisor, can you be honest with this employer?

Unfortunately, workplace abuse is common, especially in places with clear power hierarchies like in academia. You might be surprised that many employers can be empathetic to your circumstance. When I was applying to my first job out of my toxic graduate school lab, I was worried my next employer would look down on me for the abuse I endured (I still felt that it was my fault because of gaslighting). I developed answers to questions including “why are you leaving graduate school” that emphasized that I wanted to move forward positively, which was true, but also were a means to mask the fact that my abusive advisor forced me out of my program without a clear reason. Little did I know, one of my coworkers (who would become my manager) had also had an abusive graduate school advisor that forced them to leave graduate school.

In the case that I needed a letter of recommendation for this job, looking back I realize I could have been open and (1) state that I did not feel comfortable or safe obtaining a letter of recommendation from my former advisor because they were abusive toward me, and (2) suggest I request a letter of recommendation from a different professor.

There are multiple benefits to using this strategy when navigating this situation. Not only are you setting healthy boundaries with your former advisor, but also you are testing whether your future employer will be supportive of you. In the case that you explain the abuse and the employer insists on the letter, they are not being respectful of your boundaries that you are setting for your health and safety. Would you want to work for someone who treats you like that?

Abuse, harassment, and discrimination are widespread issues, especially in disciplines that are not diverse. If you have been or are currently a minority in your field or workplace, it is more likely for you to experience microaggressions, harassment, bias, discrimination, and abuse. Employers should be able to understand and empathize with potential hires who have endured abuse at previous school or workplaces if they truly support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in their organization.

I, certainly, would not want to work for anyone who sees me as problematic for being a victim of bias, harassment, and abuse. This is especially because navigating those incidents gave me new skills, knowledge, and experience. I am stronger, smarter, and more capable BECAUSE of the obstacles I have faced, not despite them.

With the heightened visibility of the #MeToo Movement and #BlackLivesMatter, plus the harassment trainings mandated in schools and workplaces, by now everyone should realize that at some point or another everyone will experience a form of abuse at work or school. It is ordinary and normal to experience abuse, so why do we feel like we must conceal our victimhood?

Being open about abuse and harassment is not easy. It is brave. It take courage. I have found that the more open I am about my struggles, the easier it is for me to identify who is supportive of me and who is not, and, thus, easier to set boundaries with or stay way from those who are unsupportive of me.

Finally, if you absolutely must provide a letter from this abusive advisor despite asking for an exception, and you need this job for your livelihood and have no other options, what should you do?

Do you know if the letter from this advisor will be negative or positive? If not, you must accept that you have no control over what is included in this letter. It can be enraging if your abusive advisor chooses to write false or exaggerated claims preventing you from reaching this next career step, but that is not in your control. I encourage you in this situation to just focus on the things you can control including the rest of the interview process, your self-care, and, ultimately, your decision of whether to accept the job or not.

Remember, you are the asset. If an employer decides you are not a “good fit” for their organization, there is likely a better opportunity awaiting you elsewhere where you will be valued.

Thanks for your question!



If you would like to submit a question to “Ask Jill” you can direct message me on Instagram, or email stemthriveguides@gmail.com your question with the Subject Line: Ask Jill.

DECLASSIFIED: How Not To Do City Diplomacy

Mayors and city-level politicians can participate in foreign diplomacy, benefiting their constituents and communities around the world. In April 1982, during the Cold War, the Mayor of Glenn Clove, New York took it upon himself to inform the U.S. Department of State of suspected espionage from Soviets living in his city at the Killenworth Estate. What followed is a story that has, until now, been hidden in classified official government correspondence.

Where did these declassified documents come from?

In 2019, Ben Leffel, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine, received boxes of declassified documents from Michael Schumann for research purposes. Michael Schumann had written the Department of State asking for declassified documents of all city to federal government communication during the Cold War era in order to write a book on the subject.

Ben, having been sent thousands of declassified documents, asked Jill Pestana, a colleague from UC Irvine and fellow former member of Nuclear Policy Working Group, to help him sift through these documents (for fun!). Jill pulled out a manilla folder with the label “Glen Cove, New York” on the tab from one box, and started reading through the enclosed documents. As they read these letters, Ben and her couldn’t believe their eyes as a story of Cold War escalation unfolded in the unlikeliest place: a recreation center.

Watch the video below to hear the rest of this story!

Read the Declassified Documents yourself:

Additional Links!

World Economy Data Visualization: https://www.kirellbenzi.com/blog/world-economy-data-viz/?fbclid=IwAR3VmBCZ6HW4c5eWtFIihE_hFfirt6VyIHAQctqfdbFS0GOUKGc0VdQhc6A

Michael Shuman Bio: https://michaelhshuman.com

Michael H. Shuman, was the lawyer who in 1982 founded the Center for Innovative Diplomacy (CID) in San Francisco, that later merged with efforts by Irvine Mayor Larry Agran and moved to Irvine, where it became a network of over 6,000 local officials and activists advocating for the end of the arms race, reduction in U.S. defense spending, sanctuary cities, sister cities in Central America, and divestment from Apartheid South Africa.

How Science Impacts Nuclear Security Policy

2016 University and Industry Technical Interchange (UITI) Review Meeting

Raleigh Convention Center, NC

June 7, 2016

Expert Panel on Nonproliferation Challenges


Ms. Corey Hinderstein – National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)

Ms. Corey Hinderstein joined the Department of Energy in February 2015 as the Senior Coordinator for the Nuclear Security Summit, and for Nonproliferation Policy Affairs at the US Department of Energy. Previously, she was Vice President for International Programs at the Nucler Threat Initiative, where she led efforts to create the World Institute for Nuclear Security, and she worked for the IAEA LEU Fuel Bank. From 1996-2006, Ms. Hinderstein worked at the Institute for Science and International Security, conducting open source assessments of proliferate state programs; including the first public identification of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz.

Mr. Alan Lebrun – International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Mr. Alan Lebrun joined the IAEA in 2002 as a Non-Destructive Assay (NDA) System Engineer after 19 years at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). He now leads a group of scientists within the Division of Technical and Scientific Services within the Department of Safeguards. His section provides around 1,000 NDA systems each year to inspectors, and is responsible for the development of all attended mode NDA instrumentation used by IAES inspectors for nuclear material verification. His section is also responsible for Technology Foresight activities aimed at introducing emerging technologies for safeguards implementation.

Dr. Glenn Sjoden – United States Air Force (USAF)

Dr. Glenn Sjoden is the Air Force Technical Applications Center’s Chief Scientist at the Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. The center operates and maintains the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System; a suite of space-based and subsurface sensors monitoring foreign nuclear test compliance. As Chief Scientist, he is the principal adviser to the commander on scientific and technical matters related to the center’s mission and to its relationships with national and international organizations. Dr. Sjoden’s experience spans a broad range of science and engineering applications, having served in numerous capacities: technical director, nuclear research officer, professor, lead design engineer, and licensed engineering consultant.

Dr. John J. “Jay” Zucca – Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

Dr. Jay Zucca is a physicist at LLNL in California. He is currently the Principal Deputy for the Global Security Directorate. He started working for LLNL in 1984 after completing his degrees. Dr. Zucca is responsible for manageing, developing, and executing programs in global threat reduction, nuclear nonproliferation, international assessments, and energy technology. Dr. Zucca has served on the U.S. Delegations to the Nuclear Testing Talks (Threshold Test Ban Treaty) and the Conference on Disarmament for the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). He is currently a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT. He joined the Global Security management team in 2001 and held various positions before accepting his current position in 2012.

Glenn –

  • Culture today – risk mitigation is extreme (paperwork), limited our ability to do research at national albs (in 50s and 60s more risks could be taken )
  • need people writing safe procedures to ensure processes are safe

How science impacts nuclear security policy?

Alain –

  • tech transfer from university to IAEA (field) –
    • difficult to introduce tech with new features / capabilities because results of inspection must be conclusive.
    • limited tech for nuclear radiation detection, could be greatly improved
    • how to use tech is as important as what tech is capable of. Tech must be within compliance with organizations’ standards.

Jay –

  • CTBT not ratified by US – next administration will decide whether to ratify. New START treaty up for review soon. Tech challenges/opportunities – proliferation detection:
    • increase in importance and difficulty
    • nuclear test monitoring: nuclear explosion monitoring (low expolosion magnitude)
      • tool development
      • advances from combining individual tech – partnering important, data/analytics and high power computing is important
    • Disarmament – decrease in arms currntly, what will happen in future?
      • how will you verify something is a certain type of nuke without revealing sensitive info.?
      • lower limits of weapons unknown
  • challenges: detecting nukes and verifying treaties – getting more difficult
  • * interdisciplinary teams needed – key in success is communication

Glenn –

  1. detection of nuclear events for US government and more nuclear forensics
  2. high-performance computing – nonproliferation, modeling, physics tech.
  3. source physics experiments
  4. medical isotopes without violating treaties
  5. mass spectrometry, X-Ray Diffraction, etc. for nuclear forensics
  6. How valid is the measurement? confidence limits. reliability. statistics.

Carey –

  1. appropriately define tech needs while keeping policy in mind – challenges
  2. successes – not using highly enriched uranium in civilian application & verification in arms control agreements (symbiotic tech/science and policy) & procurement working group (Iran)
  3. need to help policy makers understand what certain things mean
  4. make decisions, but be able to back them up (scientist)
  5. challenges:
    1. how far back on fissile material production?
    2. separate field for weapons?
    3. acceptable nuclear fuel cycle vs nonproliferation – trade-offs
    4. technical approach to anything , but there are tradeoffs
    5. haven’t looked as broadly for nuclear materials
    6. operational vs security considerations (not just vs safety)
    7. reasonable threats in response to security – how does this change how we live.
  6. science communication is important – don’t dumb down, communicate WHY your research is important. make it relevant.
  7. Plutonium more important to look at now – wasn’t looked at in past because more difficult and less used. now used more.
  8. using big data in smart ways (with limited budget) important for new administration

Jay – careers for science communicators – arms control delegations, technical advisor for delegations, through national laboratories (leads directly), professors.

Seeing Stars from NASA SOFIA

We were screeching down the runway, engines blasting, accelerating until the shuddering giant leapt off the ground into flight. SOFIA was in the air. The thought of flying on board an airplane that has a hole in its side and carries a 17-ton telescope was a little disconcerting, but after several weeks on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program as an intern, learning all about the effort it took to make the aircraft operational, I trusted that we would return to Palmdale safely.

Within the first few minutes of the flight, fellow intern Stephanie Sodergren and I were giggling with excitement from our seats in what used to be the modified 747’s first-class cabin. We quickly hung a picture of the predicted flight pattern, planning to highlight the path as we traveled overnight. We got out our NASA “meatball” tattoos and stuck them to our biceps. “It’s only been thirty minutes and we’ve done so much! We still have nine and a half more hours of flight to go!”

It was a clear and calm night over the Pacific Ocean. I gazed through the cockpit windows on the upper deck at the billions of stars visible, and thought solemnly that this may be the closest I will ever be to the stars. I pretended I was in space, gazing down at clouds I imagined to be the continents of Earth. Below, on the lower deck, the scientists and flight crew were looking through the telescope at pinpoints in this vast, unknown universe.

Sitting at the conference table on the passenger deck, I gave myself a fast lesson in the basics of star formation, using a textbook written by Dana Backman, SOFIA education and public outreach director. Relating the information to my college course material and my knowledge of the GREAT – German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies – instrument mounted on the SOFIA telescope, I gained a deeper understanding of how complex technologies are used to “look” through the cocoons of dust to see stars forming. Two astrophysicists sat across from me, receiving the GREAT’s real-time data output. “Here, come look at this!” they would say to me over the audio distribution system’s headsets. They turned their laptop screen around so I could see the fresh data on newborn “cocooned” stars in the giant gas nebula known as the Elephant Trunk formation. When it was announced that we were flying at 45,000 feet, the highest altitude flown on a SOFIA science mission, the scientists and I exchanged excited glances.

Several hours later, we were nearing the end of the journey home. I was the last of the five interns awake, eating cookies with the astrophysicists as they showed me their compiled data. It was a successful science mission, and everyone was in a good mood. A faint glow began coming from the horizon, so I headed back up to the cockpit for the landing. As the light from stars shining across the heavens was overcome by our own star’s light, I felt a twinge of sadness about my SOFIA flight coming to an end. I was exhausted, but part of me wanted to go right back up to the stratosphere. As I was listening in on the headset in the cockpit, I could hear an Australian airline on approach to California. Land was now in sight as mountains began to emerge beneath snowy clouds. I estimated we were flying right over California State University, Long Beach – my college!

With the desert approaching in the distance, I felt such a sense of pride for what had been accomplished overnight. All the effort by engineers, technicians, scientists and managers, German and American, had congealed to produce scientific data from a world incomprehensibly far from our own island of life. I had never felt our species’ innate aspiration to explore and discover more strongly than at that moment. Humbled by the vastness of space, I was beaming with pride and confidence in mankind.

I can only describe my experience of flying on SOFIA as beautiful. From the bright stars to the flight crew’s camaraderie to the notion of such a small speck of humanity – me – gazing out into the limitless unknown, I had learned so much besides the basics of star formation that night. I was ecstatic, thinking about the universe we live in. With so much effort being put into each mission by everyone in the SOFIA program, I had to pause and reflect on the words of J.F. Kennedy as he initiated our quest to the moon: NASA does what it does not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

My 10-week internship experience has been fantastic. I have met so many great, smart people who have helped me learn all about NASA, SOFIA, science, program management, astronomy, and much more. I had the best summer working with my mentor, Stephen Jensen, and fellow interns at NASA. I’m looking forward to applying what I learned and sharing my experiences back at school, hopefully inspiring others to pursue similar experiences. Because of this internship, I was able to secure a job working with SOFIA’s education and public outreach department, and will be working with Stephanie Sodergren on the department’s website during the next school year.

Thank you, NASA, for giving me this opportunity, and for showing the world what humans are capable of achieving.


Published: 08.17.11

(Editor’s Note – Jill Pestana, a student at California State University—Long Beach and daughter of NASA Dryden research pilot Mark Pestana, spent the summer of 2011 as a student intern at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., assigned to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Before her 10-week internship concluded, she flew aboard the SOFIA observatory on an astronomy mission – and gained a new appreciation for the complexities involved in astronomical science research. Above is her first-person blog about the mission.)