Spencer Smith, G'12
Assistant Professor of Physics, Mount Holyoke College
"...I never lose sight of the fact that I get paid to do physics, think about physics, and teach physics! None of this would be possible without the formative years I spent at Tufts, developing my identity as a physicist."
Current Occupation: I am an assistant professor of physics at Mount Holyoke College. In this perfect job I get to share my enthusiasm for the beauty of physics with students, both in the classroom and my computational lab. My research lies at the intersection of fluid dynamics, nonlinear systems & chaos, topology, and numerical methods.
How do you use your physics background and training in your line of work?: As a professor in a liberal arts college physics department, I use my physics background constantly: My teaching is spread across the entire curriculum, from mechanics and E&M to quantum and statistical mechanics. I mentor undergraduates, and help guide them through a physics major. In my research group, we computationally investigate the role of topological chaos in fluid mixing. I go to conferences, give talks, and write research papers. Through all of this, I never lose sight of the fact that I get paid to do physics, think about physics, and teach physics! None of this would be possible without the formative years I spent at Tufts, developing my identity as a physicist.
Did the Tufts physics department prepare you for your current career path?: It absolutely did! I could certainly talk at length about the great classes, wonderful professors, engaging fellow graduate students, and interesting research opportunities, but I'll highlight one particularly useful aspect of my time in the Tufts physics department: teaching experience. From the very beginning, when I was a lab and recitation TA, I felt that there was a strong emphasis on good teaching pedagogy. This was reinforced by the graduate institute for teaching (GIFT) summer program, where I was introduced to many core teaching ideas and was able to later co-teach a class with a faculty mentor. I had ample opportunity to refine my abilities by teaching multiple summer school physics classes and participating many times in the weekly journal club. All of this experience was invaluable when I later started my career as a visiting professor, teaching 5 classes a year.
What is your favorite memory of your time in the Tufts physics department?: This is somewhat unfair, since I have a lot of great memories of important events: defending my dissertation, getting a stroke of inspiration for my research, having my enormous body of code compile and execute correctly! Not to mention all the engaging conversations I had with my cohort and professors. So, I'll just relate a less-important memory that reminds me of some of the fun I had with fellow grad students. The last spring I was at Tufts, a pair of hawks built a nest on the fire escape near my office and laid a few eggs. To procrastinate, some of us grad students had a contest to figure out the best physics related names for the baby hawks. Of course some of the usual suspects came up: Gauss, Noether, Einstein, as well as names more tied to some of our current research: Thurston, Kaluza & Klein, or Kolmogorov. We needed a name soon, as the eggs were due to hatch, so we asked our department administrator to help choose between the options. She looked at us, rather bemused, and said: "why don't you name one of them Stephen … Stephen Hawking." Thanks to little Stephen, I got weeks of needed distraction while I was in the final stages of writing up my dissertation.
Paul Baker, G'09
Program Manager, Army Research Office (ARO)
"I have the highest regards for all the Tufts physics faculty."
Current Occupation: I am the Atomic & Molecular Program Manager for the Army Research Office (ARO).
How do you use your physics background and training in your line of work?: I fund researchers around the world in effort to develop new science specifically through the exploitation of the unique properties of quantum mechanics. I manage many efforts but I am most focused on topological quantum matter, Atomtronics, cold molecular reactions, and quantum non-equilibrium many body physics.
Did the Tufts physics department prepare you for your current career path?: Yes, I have the highest regards for all the Tufts physics faculty. I would highlight that Dr. William P. Oliver provided excellent guidance for my individual path through Tufts.
What is your favorite memory of your time in the Tufts physics department?: No offense, but it was graduating. Sometimes it still feels like a dream.