Spotlight on Humanities and Natural Sciences Alumni: Dan Richman
Occupation: Graduate student (Johns Hopkins University)
Education (UR and additional): BS (Physics), BA (Music & Mathematics), University of Rochester, 2008
Current city/state of residence: Baltimore, Maryland
Family: Dad is UR 1970 (BS Chemistry), 1975 (PhD Chemistry)
Community activities: Outreach activities in physics and astrobiology
What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?
Use the libraries! Browse the stacks, in all subject areas, and read a little from books that grab your attention. Move nimbly through this ocean. You can do this as small breaks from your work. And take advantage of the CDs in the Art and Music Library.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
I went immediately to grad school. I knew before college that I wanted a physics PhD–I wanted that depth of engagement with the subject–but at the end of undergrad it wasn’t clear what specialization I’d pursue. I leaned toward astrophysics, but I knew I should keep options open, so I chose another joint physics-astronomy department like UR’s. Even before I started my first year at Hopkins I started to pursue options in biophysics.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
I realized that “structure in the universe” applied to biology as much as it did to astrophysics, and I started to inquire around Hopkins for opportunities to combine physics and biology. Turns out it’s a big area, and I got involved in a multidisciplinary training program. My consistent interest in fundamental principles and intricate form and motion led me finally to the protein science lab I currently work in.
What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?
In venturing outward from physics into realms of biology and chemistry, all of my basic physics training has been crucial to quickly learn new fields. Statistical mechanics is my bread-and-butter in the land of proteins, and familiarity with quantum mechanics and electromagnetism has let me get deeply into the NMR spectroscopy I use to study proteins.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
Discipline and flexibility together. When I walk over to campus to spend the day I focus on the work of experiments, data analysis, studying literature, and having conversations about science, but I’m flexible about switching among these things on a whim, to follow my mood or curiosity. I try to protect my evenings so I can run, cook dinner with my girlfriend, and enjoy interests such as music. It’s not strict compartmentalization, just being focused, organized, and nimble.
Where would you like to be in five years?
Doing fundamental research in protein design as a post-doc and starting or joining a company based on designing proteins for pharmaceutical or industrial use, and possibly pursuing this in parallel with or instead of an academic career.