PhDs

Matthew Abroe (UMN Physics PhD)

Portfolio Manager at Black River Asset Management

matthew abroe

Matthew, who enjoyed mathematics and his high school physics class, decided to major in physics in college, which ultimately led to his PhD. 

After graduate school, Matthew got a job as a quantitative analyst, where he built analytical tools for finding trading opportunities in global financial markets.

"A friend from grad school got a job at a hedge fund, which is how I learned about finance as a possible career path. While applying for post-docs, I also sent my resume to Black River, which led to a job offer."

After several years as an analyst, Matthew moved into a portfolio manager role who makes investment decisions. He now manages a team of 8 investment professionals who allocate capital to large domestic and international investors.

"The analytical lessons I learned doing physics research were crucial in developing the systematical tools I use for analyzing financial markets."

Chaoyun Bao (UMN Physics PhD)

Managing strategy consultant for IBM

Picture of Chaoyun BauChaoyun has been interested in science for her entire life and was fascinated by images from the Hubble Space telescope as a child. She chose to be an astrophysics major because of an inspiring professor and went to the Iowa State University for graduate school. She later transferred to the U so she could work on cosmic microwave background research. After working at the U as a postdoc for a year, she moved to the private sector.

“I decided to leave academia because I wanted a bigger audience to what I do – there are probably 20 people in the world who could understand the papers I published during my PhD.”

She began working in data science, solving problems in the energy industry. Finding that she lacked necessary business acumen, Chaoyun got a Tech MBA at NYU Stern. She now works at IBM in the Chief Analytics office.

“My physics background definitely gives me the credibility of being a critical and analytical thinker, as well as a problem solver … Even though most of my general relativity or quantum mechanics knowledge won’t be used in my day-to-day work, it gives me the confidence that I have the capability to learn and understand any complex technology or concepts needed

for my job.”

Bryce Beverlin II (UMN Physics PhD)

Founder of Quench Medical, St. Paul, MN

bryce beverlin

The son of a physician and a nurse, Bryce first caught the physics bug when he read a "Fun with Physics" book as a child. Multiple great physics teacher in high school continued to nurture his interest, and after graduating with a Bachelor's in music from Northwestern, he returned to Minnesota to pursue a BS in physics and astrophysics at the U.

"I loved the intertwining of the two physics majors, the awe of the vast, unsolved problems in the cosmos, and the insanity of happenings at the quantum mechanical scales."

As a graduate student, also at the U, Bryce took a course in Neural Engineering and got hooked on applying his physics problem solving skills to biological systems. He earned his PhD studying potential therapies for neurodegenerative diseases like epilepsy.

After a post-doc at the U's Medical Devices Center, Bryce started his own company, Quench Medical, which develops novel inhaled therapies to treat lung diseases like asthma, COPD, and lung cancer.

"The complexity of biology is staggering, and I still use my basic physics problem solving skills on a daily basis. The difficulty of completing a physics degree parallels real life: keep trying new ways of solving problems, and don't give up!"

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Charlie Blackwell (UMN Physics PhD)

Product Development Manager at Suominen Corporation

Charlie Blackwell

Charlie graduated from public high school in the suburbs of Atlanta and headed to Florida A&M University. He initially wanted to major in genetic engineering, but switched to physics.

"I chose physics because I wanted the flexibility to choose from a variety of careers," he says.

The summer before his senior year, Charlie interned at the University of Minnesota and got excited about experimental condensed matter physics. His advisor encouraged him to apply to the graduate program.

After earning a PhD, Charlie started as a Senior Product Development Engineer in the aerospace group at 3M. Now, with Suominen Corp, he is a Product Development Manager designing nonwoven materials, which are used for hygiene products as well as wet wipes and swabs. Charlie credits his physics degree with his success in multiple fields.

"The physics degree has allowed me to become the subject matter expert in many projects because of the ability to learn new subjects in depth. I can more easily adapt to new topics."

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John Buan (UMN Physics PHD)

CTO, Aatru Medical

Picture of John Buan

When John initially started at the U as an undergrad, he wanted to study architecture. He eventually found that he preferred the challenge offered by physics and mathematics and chose those two majors. His experience with mathematics also helped him realize he preferred a more experimentally oriented career.

“I was more interested in getting my hands dirty”.

After graduating, John returned to the U for graduate school, and earned his PhD working on high temperature superconductors. Because of the intense competition for jobs in academia, he started his own company to commercialize the use of high temperature superconductor as thermometers. He found that he enjoyed working in the field of medical technology, and has stayed there ever since, specializing in wound care.

“I really liked the whole process of talking with physicians, understanding their needs, and applying my technical skills.”

John appreciates the importance of understanding both the ‘soft problems’ and the technical problems that his job presents. In his current research in wound care, he finds that his physics education is a valuable asset.

“Physics sets you up to think about these problems in a way that I think other disciplines

don’t” … “It's important for physics students to really work on the soft side of things, people, relationships, and listening.”

Cathy Christiansen (UMN Physics PHD)

Project Manager, Global Foundries

Picture of Cathy Christiansen

Though Cathy had always been interested in math and science, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in, and tried different majors. She eventually settled on science education with a minor in physics. After graduating, she found teaching to be less rewarding than she expected and decided to get a PHD in physics at the U.

“I still loved science and so decided to go on to graduate school where I expected that I would end up teaching at the college level to more motivated students.”

At the U she had a fantastic experience working in a low temperature superconductivity group. Talking to former graduate students she realized that she wanted to go into industry and found a job at IBM. Working in the reliability department Cathy found that her physics background enabled her to quickly learn on the job even though she didn’t use her expertise in superconductivity. She now works at Global Foundries, a semi-conductor manufacturer, as a project manager.

“I constantly have to learn new things, from software tools to physical processes to making business decisions. Through it all, I have drawn on the technical, communication, and teamwork skills I gained as a physics graduate student at the U of M.

 

Paul Edmon (UMN Astrophysics PhD)

Research Computing Associate, Harvard Institute for Theory and Computation, Cambridge MA

Paul Edmon

Paul loved space and stars; he wanted to be an astronaut. He discovered a knack and love for physics in high school and knew that you needed a PhD to be an astronaut, so he went off to the University of Washington to study physics.

As an undergraduate Paul joined a research group detecting cosmic rays. In graduate school at the U he continued to study cosmic rays, now studying their origins and developing numerical simulations of their acceleration mechanisms. Part of this research was carried out using supercomputers that are part of the U's Minnesota Supercomputing Institute.

"I found that I really enjoyed using the largest machines in the world to simulate the largest explosions in the universe which accelerate the fastest particles we know of."

After working as a postdoc at the University of Manitoba, Paul is now running a supercomputing cluster at the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) helping researchers with their computing jobs. His background in astrophysics helps him understand what researchers need.

"While day to day I don't do astronomy anymore, the knowledge I gained during my PhD has allowed me to think at multiple scales, and to understand what the astronomers at CfA are trying to accomplish."

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Steve Gustafson (UMN Physics PhD)

Research Physicist, University of Dayton in Dayton, OH

Professor at Air Force Institute of Technology near Dayton OH, Retired

Steve Gustafson

When Steve started at the U in 1963, new technologies like satellites and transistors made it an exciting time for physics.

"I was drawn to physics as a way to understand technological innovations that were new," he says.

As an undergraduate, Steve built equipment to detect low-energy cosmic rays. As a graduate student at Duke University, he worked on microwave molecular spectroscopy. Steve credits his physics background for his ability to work on a variety of projects throughout his career

"I found that my education in physics enabled me to 'jump right in' on numerous opportunities and assignments."

After earning his PhD, Steve started a career as a research physicist at the University of Dayton, contracting with a variety of companies, focusing on optical phenomena for aerospace companies and government agencies. Later in life, he started teaching graduate courses in electro-optics and artificial intelligence, finished his career at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He found teaching to be very satisfying, and a great end to an enjoyable career.

"My career in physics was diverse and enjoyable. I wouldn't change any of it!"

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Lindsey Hillsheim (UMN Physics PhD)

Director of Strategic Partnerships & Innovation, ATP BIO UMN

Picture of Lindsey Hillsheim

Lindsey majored in physics as an undergrad because of her childhood interest in astronomy.  She became interested in biophysics after a research project done through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. This drove her to get a PhD in physics at the U where she studied biophysics. 

“I was drawn to both the experimental aspects and the organized approach to solving problems in physics. I am, by nature, a systems thinker and driven to understand complexity”

After earning her PhD, Lindsey began teaching at a small college before deciding she wanted to work in science policy.  She spent the next stage of her career working for the State Department and DARPA. Lindsey eventually returned to Minnesota to work in industry having experienced both academic and government work. She now works at the U for ATP-Bio, an organization that develops advanced bio-preservation techniques.

“The key to seeing the order that underlies complexity is often doing targeted experiments (e.g., pilot programs or prototypes) and developing the framework that can abstract the complexity in an actionable way.  And these are core skills gained in the physics curriculum across all degree levels.”

Ted Hodapp (UMN Physics PHD)

Director of Project Development, APS

Picture of Ted Hodapp

Ted knew he wanted to pursue a PHD in physics as early as high school. He knew it would enable him to address real world questions in ways that other disciplines would not. After graduating from the U as an undergrad, he started graduate school at the University of Rochester before transferring back to the U.

“Physics was a passion of mine from when I first discovered it in high school – I loved how it provided a framework for understanding the world we live in and decided to pursue a PhD before even starting college.”

After earning his PHD, Ted took a position as assistant professor at Hamline University where he frequently took sabbaticals to work with various companies on optics. He also found that he enjoyed teaching physics students how to solve challenging problems. Ted eventually joined the American Physical Society (APS) and currently works as their Director of Project Development, working to improve physics education and to build a more inclusive environment.

“We have made some significant advances and my training as an experimentalist benefits me every day – maybe not in soldering connectors or aligning laser cavities, but certainly in looking at data in critical ways and questioning how we know what we know. ”

Karl Pfitzer (UMN Physics PhD)

Senior Technical Fellow at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), Huntington Beach CA

Karl Pfitzer

Money had always been a problem in Karl's family, but he was awarded a scholarship that paid for his tuition and a place to live at the University of Minnesota.

Originally a chemistry major, Karl switched to physics after Organic Chemistry his sophomore year convinced him he did not want to be a chemist.

"I felt that physics was what I needed in order to understand how the world worked...that it would give me the training I needed to do almost any job."

Karl started working in a research lab building NASA funded satellites, the start of a long career working on technology in space. Karl stayed on at the U to earn his PhD developing an instrument that could fly in space to measure electrons in the Van Allen Belt. Teaching an advanced physics course after earning his PhD, Karl decided that academia wasn't for him and he took a research job at McDonnell Douglas in California.

Early in his career with McDonnell Douglas, Karl worked on solving problems in space. For example, he calculated for NASA the radiation dose astronauts would experience in space. As he advanced through his career, his physics education gave him the backgrond to support a wide range of engineering projects.

"One engineer commented 'for a physicist, you are a pretty good engineer.' The incredible diversity of the work I had to do for my PhD thesis gave me the tools to excel as an engineer."

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Rick Robinett (UMN Physics PhD)

Professor at Penn State University in State College, PA

Rick Robinett speaking at commencement

Although physics and math were his favorite classes in high school, Rick started his undergraduate career at the U as an architecture major. That didn't last very long, and he soon switched back to math. The intro level physics courses he took opened his eyes to a new career possibility.

"I realized that the beautiful mathematics that I'd been seeing so abstractly could have real-life applications."

After graduating with degrees in physics and math, Rick followed the academic route. He earned a PhD in theoretical particle physics from the U, took two postdoctoral positions, and then landed a faculty job at Penn State University. He had two stints as associate dean.

Although he followed the standard academic path, Rick has also been an enthusiastic advocate for the diversity of career options a physics degree can provide. At Penn State, he teaches a "junior careers course," exploring post-undergraduate career options for students in the physics program.

"I encourage all physics majors, wherever they are, to explore career opportunities through networking. Use the excellent information available from the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics and take advantage of Linkedin.com to connect with peers and mentors."

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Ian Tregillis (UMN Physics PHD)

Staff Scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Picture of Ian Tregillis

Ian’s first experience doing physics research came in his senior year of high school, when he was able to work with a professor at the U building circuits. He continued at the U and had multiple research experiences in both solid-state physics and computational astrophysics. Enjoying astrophysics, he chose to double major. It became the focus of his senior thesis as well as his graduate studies, also at the U.

“I worked on numerical simulations of "cosmic bullets:" clumpy supernova ejecta traveling supersonically through a gaseous background medium. I enjoyed computational astrophysics, and this determined my path for the next decade.”

After earning his PHD Ian took a post-doctoral position at Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), eventually becoming a permanent staff scientist. He currently works on nuclear fusion projects.

“To this day, I am endlessly fascinated by the way physics illuminates how the world works at a very fundamental level. Being fluent in the mathematical language of physics enables a person to make meaningful quantitative predictions about the world. It is extremely satisfying to work through a physics calculation from first principles to predict a measurement, then later see that prediction confirmed by experiment.”

Maribel Núñez Valdez (UMN Physics PhD)

Researcher at Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam

Professor at Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main

Maribel Núñez Valdez (Physics PhD)

As teenager, Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” got Maribel hooked on the stars. An internet search into what was required to be an astronomer set her on the path to getting her undergraduate degree in physics.

“I was always trying to understand why things in nature work or happen the way they do and not another.”

As she took her undergraduate classes, Maribel’s interest shifted to theoretical physics. She moved to Minnesota and earned her MSc and PhD doing work first in particle and later in condensed matter physics.

A supportive postdoctoral advisor at ETH-Zürich gave Maribel a “professional energy boost” and the confidence to continue along the academic career path. She currently holds a research position in the physics and chemistry of geomaterials at Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam in Germany, and she is a professor at Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main. She enjoys teaching courses tailored for non-physics majors, and mentoring students. Her physics journey has now brought her all over the world, and through many different subjects.

“It was neither straight nor easy path from astronomy to the atomic world, but ultimately I feel a sense of accomplishment for that little girl from Mexico that experimented with thermometers in the kitchen and watched the night sky.”

 

Garrick Villaume (UMN Physics PHD)

Cofounder of NETZRO SBC 

Garrick Villaume (Physics PHD)            Garrick took his first physics class in high school. He found the physics approach to problem solving appealing compared to other disciplines. Garrick did his physics BSc at the U and then stayed for graduate school concentrating on particle physics.           

“That was an intense period for me, as I also married and became a father while completing my BSc. I received great support from the faculty and department, and I applied for and they accepted me into the graduate program.”        

While in graduate school, Garrick took an engineering position in the magnetic recording industry to better support his family. After receiving his PHD, Garrick quickly transitioned into executive management, and has gained 20 years of executive experience.

He currently works to develop ecopositive businesses. He is the technical cofounder of NETZRO SBC, a food waste upcycling company.

“Physics taught me how to model systems generally, to measure their properties accurately and precisely, and to analyze their fundamental dynamics systematically.  It taught me how to reason objectively to form meaningful hypotheses and apply empirical observations to test them.  This has made me a better decision maker, more capable manager, and more effective leader.”