Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Roger Smith
Name: Roger Smith
Occupation: Graduate School Student
Education: BS (Optics), BA (Physics), University of Rochester, 2009; MS (Physics), University of Oregon, 2010; PhD (Experimental Quantum Optics), expected 2015, University of Oregon
Current city/state of residence: Eugene, Oregon
Community activities: Outreach activities presenting science to young students; city-league ultimate frisbee
Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?
When I was in eighth grade, my family drove to UR to attend the “Fall into Rochester” program for my sister, then a senior in high school. During an academic open house, my father and I were looking at the engineering departments and I distinctly remember seeing a tall, lanky student standing at a table that said “Optics.” At the time, I had no idea what this was, so we ventured over and asked the student what he studied. The student cracked a large grin and replied simply “Lasers. I play with lasers!” Instantly, I was hooked and never forgot about UR. In high school, my favorite subject was physics and the prospect of playing with lasers was just too enticing to pass up so I applied Early Decision and was accepted in late December. The beautiful campus and high academic standards were also a large draw for me.
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
One of the best experiences I ever had was going into local middle schools and presenting demos on optics to fifth and sixth grade classrooms. Working with children that are so eager to learn and excited to go and teach their parents was so rewarding to see. The smiles on those faces were so uplifting and something I’ll never forget. It has shaped what I try to achieve and has helped me to see some of the bigger issues in my field that I am now actively trying to address.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
I enrolled in a physics PhD program at the University of Oregon in the fall after graduation. In my junior year, I realized that I was less interested in designing optical systems for industry and more interested in the fundamental principles underlying why light does what it does. So I began taking more classes in physics (and ended up with a second major) to prepare for a future academic program in physics. I have always had the aspiration to gain a PhD and as graduation grew closer, I realized that I wanted more skills in experimental physics and a better intuition for the subject before I tried to do independent work. I also relished the university atmosphere, working with students, and constantly learning that I wanted to eventually become a professor at the time.
Where would you like to be in five years?
In five years, I would like to have graduated my current PhD program, completed a Post-Doctoral position in ultrafast laser physics in either Germany or Switzerland, and be looking for a more permanent position in the US. At this point, I’m leaning toward either working in industry or a national laboratory, but who knows – five years is a long time from now.
What advice do you have for current students?
It’s hard to know what exactly you will want in a couple years – maybe your career goals will be the same as they are now, but chances are that your ideas and desires will change. When I entered the UR as a bright-eyed freshman, I had very different ideas and desires from when I left with my degrees. So always make long range goals and shoot for them, but don’t be concerned if your path and your end goal change. As long as you’re always making steps forward and always doing what you love, then you’ll end up somewhere happy and rewarding.