Jason S. Goldberg (’94)
I would say, using myself as an example, having a Physics background is a tremendous asset no matter what field one decides to go into. I really think that the problem solving skills I learned as a Physics major have helped me in my Engineering work. Also, since Physics is so fundamental to everything else (perhaps my view here is a little jaded?) there is no way to go wrong by learning Physics first and then moving up to other disciplines. ('Up' in the sense that 'C' is a higher level language than 'assembly'.) And now seems to be a great time for well-skilled scientists here in the Silicon Valley. The group I am in at IBM is concerned with magnetic disk media and most of the PhD's are from Physics/Material Science backgrounds.
Gregory N. Hassold (’79)
I was in fact fortunate enough to land an academic position... especially a relatively enjoyable one. Tenure is nice, too! My education at Mudd was a thorough preparation for graduate study... that was no problem.
Randall R. Spangler (’92)
I graduated in 1992 and made a short move to Caltech to study Computation and Neural Systems, a multidisciplinary degree which covers everything from information theory to computer graphics to neural networks to measuring the behavior of individual neurons in rats. The core curriculum of Mudd was great preparation for this, giving me a broad enough background to do well across all of that. I finished my Ph.D. in 1999, with a thesis titled “Real-Time Rule-Based Analysis and Generation of Music” —which also leveraged the music courses I took at Scripps.
I then moved up to Silicon Valley and worked for 6 years at Foveon, an image sensor / digital camera startup, where I wrote software and firmware for digital cameras. With a physics degree, I understood not only the software, but also the semiconductor physics and optics that happen before the image is captured, and I was comfortable enough with an oscilloscope to do hardware debugging as well. That flexibility is particularly important at a startup, where there are few enough engineers that everyone need to be good at several things.
After Foveon, I worked a year and a half at Carrier IQ, a startup which does cell phone-based diagnostics and analysis of Sprint’s mobile phone network. All those E&M courses helped me understand how CDMA and GSM work, so I could determine what types of information would be most useful to read from phones.
In 2007 I started at Google, where I’ve now been for 5 years. I’ve worked on Google Earth, written python-based build systems, and for the last 3 years I’ve been the firmware lead for Chrome OS, Google’s new open-source browser-based operating system. And yes, I still have an oscilloscope at my desk.
In the 20 years since graduating with a physics degree from Mudd, I’ve been unemployed, well, never. I’ve also never had a job title of “physicist” or “scientist” - but every physics course I took at Mudd has been useful at one time or another.
HMC Physics ’92
Susan Lewallen (’76)
I graduated in physics in 1976, went to medical school and am now an ophthalmologist doing research in tropical eye diseases. HMC was a great education - can't say I really use a lot of physics, and I'd choke if I had to do a Fourier transformation, but I do rather enjoy optical problems (unlike a lot of my colleagues) and I repair the odd broken instrument...
Kenneth R. Lorell (’65)
So what do I think about a physics education some 30+ years after graduation? Would I do it all over again? There's absolutely no question in my mind. For anyone entering virtually any of the engineering or science disciplines, with maybe the exception of organic chemistry, an undergraduate physics education is invaluable. I went on to the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Stanford School of Engineering for my Ph.D., and my HMC physics degree was a major advantage in practically every class I took and in my thesis research. In addition, in my years as a technical contributor, having the breadth and depth that a physics degree provides made me much more versatile than my colleagues who studied some branch of engineering. I was able to apply basic concepts from E and M, dynamics, optics, and even basic nuclear physics / relativity theory / quantum mechanics to solving problems and inventing new techniques. The ability to understand physical phenomena and apply basic principals to analysis and problem solving is directly related to the solid foundation that I got as a physics major. The colleague with whom I had my most successful collaboration, by the way, has a Ph.D. in physics (with engineering subjects, from the Sorbonne) and my former boss has a degree in Engineering Physics from Cornell---just indications of how a physics degree is a key building block to a successful technical career.
Joseph G. Shanks (’79)
My point is that the baseline skills for success in industry (I believe) are common sense, good communication skills, a reasonably broad background in science and decent computer skills. There will always be a market for bright people who satisfy these criteria, and a physics degree is a big plus for the applied science shops.
Sydney Melhuish (’94)
I've felt for quite some time that an HMC physics major can do anything he or she wants. The mere fact of making it through the program attests to a certain amount of natural ability, but at least as important is the fact that much of what we learn is many methods of approaching problems. The flexibility and open-mindedness which results is of great value in (I believe) any career option, from physics to software engineering to investment banking. So, though physics doesn't apply directly to writing software, the training I got has helped indirectly in a great many ways, most of which I don't realize until I stop and think about it for a bit.
George W. Conner (’74)
It turns out that Physics was a great intro for my particular job. I started as a digital electronics design engineer and the electronics part could be handled with the few courses HMC offered. The tough part was understanding the complex interrelationships of the functional blocks of the system. My physics background helped in this area although I did spend some intensive time reading electronics books. As time progressed, my job became more of an architectural endeavour and that was where physics really started to help: architecture involves understanding the big picture, not just the details of electronics but mechanical, thermal, software etc. At one time or another I have used almost every branch of technology. Only physics gives you enough understanding of theory to let you jump in and start swinging no matter where you land.
Nathan L. Cook (’95)
My Mudd education has been indispensable for this job. My attitude towards science has been the single most important strength, and I know that my years at Harvey Mudd contributed positively and greatly to that attitude.
Joseph H. Thywissen (’94)
Congratulations on the department's recent vigorous activity! It sounds great in that it provides more research opportunities for undergraduates....
Frederick H. Streitz (’83)
I love teaching (but then, I learned from the best), and love my research - it's trying to do both all the time that I am finding taxing.
Ben F. Noviello (’84)
I use my physics knowledge to allow me to quickly grasp the underlying principles of whatever problem I am dealing with, allowing me to gain a working knowledge without getting bogged down in the details. It is this ability to be something of a jack-of-all trades (or a technical general practitioner as I prefer to think of it) that makes me valuable to the employer. Physics is the ideal background for this. In fact, as one goes up the management chain of this company, one finds that it is physics-heavy, as these are the people who have the ability to grasp the underlying concepts of a problem- which is what I think physics is all about.
Hold the line when it comes to those things that traditionally make HMC great. That I was taught in small classes entirely by English-speaking PhD's who actually had office hours and didn't treat us an annoyance stands in stark contrast to the undergraduate experience of most of my peers.
Matthew S. McAdams (’92)
I very frequently thank my good fortune in having gone to HMC. I managed to learn a whole bunch of physics despite my best efforts to the contrary. :-) When I got to grad school I realized how good my undergrad classes had been. I think the biggest selling point for your department is the opportunity to do research and write a senior thesis working one-on-one with a faculty member. At _ _ _ _ _ _ _, undergrads get pawned off on us grad students, who assign the undergrads some boring grunt work--like build this circuit or do this computer simulation. At Mudd the physics research opportunities are much more intimate and enriching. It's pretty good experience for doing research in any field.
Brian W. Baxley (’72)
I see physics as a "liberal" education in technology. It prepares one to understand much of modern technology, and in the sense that a liberal education prepares one for life but not for a specific role in life, physics gives one access to the world (should I say the universe?) in a general way that goes beyond preparation for research or an academic or industrial career. The physics curriculum develops curiosity, observation, reasoning, mathematical analysis, verbal and written discourse, etc., and these can be applied to writing, teaching, business, engineering, research, diplomacy - to any endeavor.
Justin T. Stege (’92)
I'm currently finishing my PhD in Biology here at UCSD. This was a big change from physics and I am not directly doing much physics related research. However, I think my physics training was very important. I learned how to be a clear, critical, scientific thinker which has served me well here. Having a physics background in no way hindered my applications to biology graduate schools. I think most schools considered it an advantage. The field of biology is becoming much more analytical and the perspective I have with a physics background is quite useful. Now that I am looking for a job, I think having a background in both physics and biology will help a lot.
Valerie A. Nandor (’94)
The career that I am looking toward right now is that of Prep. School teacher. I plan to obtain my Ph. D. in 2000. I think that in relation to
my future job, the aspect of my education that impressed me the most is the quality of the teaching that goes on at Mudd.
Stanley G. Love (’87)
I credit the solid general physics education I got at HMC for my ability to do good work in such a wide variety of disciplines. That general education has also allowed me to change career paths several times, and to land a good permanent job during a time when the field of my Ph.D. work (astronomy and planetary science) has few positions to offer.
Stanley Q. Kidder (’71)
I can't speak highly enough of the broad-based physics education I received
at HMC. I have done a lot of things over the years, and virtually all of
them were made possible by my physics education. Yes, a job after
graduation is important, but the broader your education, the more likely
you are to be able to keep up with the rapidly changing times.
James W. Baumgart (’79)
I have had a great life since HMC, I have worked on everything from military to law enforcement to environmental analysis in the Amazon to farming software. I am most proud of my work in remote sensing combined with knowledge-based earth / terrain modeling. This work has led me all over the US, Europe, and South America. The thread of satellite imagery combined with GIS data and then pumped through human rules of expertise has spanned almost all of my projects. I couldn't have done this at all without a strong background in physics.
Ralph H. Castain (’76)
Probably the most useful part of my education has been its broad nature, and that's where HMC has contributed the most. I have to pull in a wide variety of areas, and am continually surprised at the lack of breadth I find in those educated at the larger state universities. I guess HMC provides a wider education than you realize as you go through it.
Sean P. Burke (’82)
The scope of my technical education at Harvey Mudd made it possible for me to design products in physics, mathematics, chemistry, and electrical engineering. I felt confident enough to teach myself new subjects... My current team covers a lot of technical ground, and I think that the broad scientific training I received in physics at Harvey Mudd continues to contribute to my ability to successfully educate myself in new subjects and to understand the post-graduate-level work being done by the group.
Eric E. Fullerton (’84)
Regarding the employment opportunities for physicists; I've found that physics offers a great deal of flexibility in choosing a career path. When I decided to return to the west coast and join IBM, I was also actively recruited by a teaching college, research university, national lab and I had a tenured position at Argonne if I had chosen to stay there. Presently, the job market is very strong for Ph.D.s.