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Rocket Scientists Take Skills To Wall St.

Physics Students Try To Diversify

By Lana Israel

Purists in physics departments cringe these days, as more of the faithful leave the scientific fold. Stories of rocket scientists making a name for themselves at Salmon Brothers and Goldman Sachs abound.

And such stories aren't purely theoretical, they are grounded in reality. "It's sort of this mythical story that turns out to be true," says Derrick E. Bass '95, co-president of the Society of Physics Students.

In evaluating the reasons why physicists are pursuing business careers, employment seems to be a strong motivating factor. "Right now the job market in physics itself is pretty dismal, especially with the recent cut of the SSC. It really decimates one branch of physics," says Bass. The SSC, the Superconducting Supercollider, was an $11 billion particle accelerator in Texas whose funding was cut by Congress in October.

Jed Dempsey and Ashraf Hanna are both physics Ph.Ds from Harvard now doing management consulting for McKinsey & Co. Dempsey, who works in San Fransisco, had considered a business career while studying physics. "I knew of all the limitations associated with a physics career. I kept my eyes open and did the Ph.D to fulfill a personal goal," says empsey. "I knew the reasoning would come in useful."

It is precisely these type of thinking skills that companies such as McKinsey are actively pursuing, recruiting not only MBAs but Ph.Ds in technical categories, of which physics recruits are the most numerous. Hanna says that whether it's evaluating a plane's trajectory when flyingfrom Boston to L.A. or analyzing a stock, thethought process is the same.

"What you really learn to do as a physicist istake the world and translate it into mathematicalequations, solve the equations, and translate themback into the physical world," says Hanna.

Margaret L. Newhouse, assistant director forPh.D Careers at OCS, says that "physicists have aset of skills that the non-academic world values."New house says that this is the first year OCS hashad formal business recruiting of Ph.Ds bycompanies such as McKinsey, Monitor and Banker'sTrust.

But physicists aren't making theirpresence felt only in the business world.Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor ofHistory of Science Emeritus Gerald Holton saysthat law and politics are other areas physicsPh.Ds are pursuing.

"About half the bills that go through Congresshave a markedly prominent science or technicalcomponent," says Holton. "So people who havescience backgrounds are very badly needed inCongress or as staffers." Currently, the head ofthe Congressional committee on Science, Space andTechnology is George Brown, Jr. (D-Calif.) who hasa Ph.D in physics.

Then there are individuals like Michael S.Pavloff '88, who concentrated in physics and wenton to become a gourmet chef at Boston'sL'Espalier. Pavloff's career choice was notmotivated by the physics job market, but rather bya genuine interest in cooking. L'Espalier's owner,a former government concentrator at Harvard,offered Pavloff a job during his senior year.

After a year of cooking, Pavloff went on towork as an engineer. "The thing that drove me awayfrom cooking is in the end, no matter how creativeit is, it's not intellectually stimulating. Theone thing I needed was to keep my mind alive."

As Pavloff illustrates, physics graduates'decisions to pursue alternate careers are oftenmotivated by genuine interests rather than poorjob prospects doing physics.

For Rohan J. Hoare, a physics Ph.D who begantaking business courses in graduate school, hiseventual career choice was "a matter of someevolving interests." Hoare now works for McKinseyin Los Angeles.

Yet, the job market still remains aconcern not only for physics students, but alsofor Harvard's physics department. Howard Georgi,chair of the department, says, "Given theuncertainty in the physics job market, we want tokeep flexible and open."

With no required thesis for undergraduatehonors physics concentrators and relatively few,though difficult courses to take, Georgi saysphysics lends itself to interdisciplinary tracksof study.

When asked whether interdisciplinary studyopens up career and research opportunities forphysics concentrators, Georgi says, "That's ourtheory, although we're not able to prove that."

This year, 31 percent of physics concentratorsare pursuingcondary fields of study. Andrew J. Yu'94 is a concentrator in Physics and East AsianStudies. Yu initially tried to do a jointconcentration with physics and economics, but sayshe did not find the economics department veryaccommodating.

After taking some Japanese history courses, Yudecided to declare East Asian Studies as asecondary concentration. "One thing that I didn'twant to end up as was a science concentrator byitself. I wanted to integrate some sort ofhumanities into my curriculum," says Yu.

His fluency in Japanese and understanding ofJapanese culture helped Yu land a job next year ata superconductor company in Japan.

Vikram A. Savkar '94 is a concentrator inphysics and classics. "The reason I did it wasbecause I had always liked both subjects, althoughphysics is what I want to do with my life," hesays.

Savkar, who intends on staying in academia andearning a Ph.D in physics, says that bothdepartments were extremely accommodating. The lackof a thesis and tutorial requirement for physicshelped him manage both discplines at once, saysSavkar.

A more common joint concentration isphysics and astronomy. One such concentrator, MarcJ. Kuchner '94, will be attending graduate schoolnext year at either Harvard or the CaliforniaInstitute of Technology. In terms of getting intograduate school, Kuchner does not think that hisjoint concentration made much of a difference.

"I could have just done a physics major, butthe astronomy department's great for the ratio offaculty to students," says Kuchner. "I know a lotof physics majors who feel very neglected. Mostpeople who do physics and something else seem alot happier."

Fellow physics and astronomy concentrator TonyH. Wong '94 agrees. "The physics department is afairly large department and sometimes it can be abit intimidating. The astronomy department issmaller and you get to know some of theprofessors," says Wong. "It's the best of bothworlds."

Both Wong and Kuchner say they were partlyinfluenced to declare physics as their primaryconcentration by the lack of a thesis and tutorialrequirement.

But others, like Cynthia B. Phillips '95,secretary of the Society for Physics Students, saythey would rather have a thesis and tutorial--andchoose physics only as a secondary concentrationbecause of its lack of these requirements.

Phillips, whose primary concentration isastronomy and intends to spend this summer at theUniversity of Arizona watching a comet crash intoJupiter, says, "I find the physics itself kind ofdry but once I get into an astrophysics coursewith applications, I find the physics much easierto learn."

It was applications that led Bo Y. Shao '95 tobecome a physics and engineering concentrator."Initially I felt that physics was verytheoretical, especially at Harvard, and I justliked to see some application with something likeengineering," Shao says.

Professor Emeritus Holton, who helped establisha teacher certification program for physicsconcentrators, says of interdisciplinary studies,"It's terribly satisfying for students here to usethe resources to go beyond one lab building."

While joint concentrations arefulfilling for many students, there is debate asto whether such courses of study significantlyincrease one's career opportunities. VineerBhansali, a Ph.D from Harvard and now a vicepresident at Citicorp in New York says, "Itdoesn't matter if you have two or three majorsbecause when you get into Wall Street you have tore-learn everything anyway."

Bhansali, who also recruits for Citicorp, saysin reference to the banking industry, "It's a verypersonality-oriented field. You have to be verydynamic." In fact, Bhansali says applicants'undergraduate concentrations figure little in thehiring process, as long as candidates showcompetence and a keen interest in the what they'redoing.

And Hoare says, "Most important is having aninquisitive mind and having very good socialskills."

Individuals such as Bhansali and Hoare see theglut in the physics job market as being cyclicaland advise students to pursue lines of study thatinterest them, not just those that they think willset them up in terms of a career.

"I think it would be a terrible tragedy ifpeople decided not to go into physics because thejob market is bad," says Hoare. He added, "There'sstill going to be positions and still a lot ofwork to be done."

Peter L. Galison, Mallinckrodt professorof the history of science and of physics, providesanother perspective to interdisciplinary studies."Often times these interdisciplinary areas growinto areas in their own right," says Galison, whois also chair of the department of History ofScience.

Such seems to be the case with AssistantProfessor of Psychiatry Dr. Jeffrey P. Sutton.Sutton is a physician who has combined bothclinical neuroscience and theoretical physics tostudy the human brain.

Sutton, who did his residency at the MedicalSchool, received an M.A. in neuroscience, a Ph.Din theoretical physics and a M.D. from theUniversity of Toronto.

"Jeffrey is a singular individual in being thephysicist and the psychiatrist," says Dr. JosephT. Coyle, Draper professor of psychiatry andneuroscience. "There are very few people inpsychiatry that bring background that is groundedin rigorous physics and informed by clinicalpsychiatric expertise," says Coyle, who is chairof the Medical School's department of psychiatry.

"He and people like him are changing the way wethink of psychiatrists and the way psychiatryoperates," says Assistant Professor of PsychiatryJon Rady. "Jeff's nontraditional route from mathto physics to medicine to psychiatry is not goingto be uncommon in the future."

Dr. Sutton says that the opportunity tointegrate both fields is extremely rewarding forhim.

"Sometimes an interdisciplinary approach canlead to new ways of solving problems, can be verygratifying and doesn't have to be an either/or,"says Sutton.CrimsonJosh A. FieldsSoRelle B. BraunPhysical Evidence An examination of thecollegiate decisions of physics concentrators:

"What you really learn to do as a physicist istake the world and translate it into mathematicalequations, solve the equations, and translate themback into the physical world," says Hanna.

Margaret L. Newhouse, assistant director forPh.D Careers at OCS, says that "physicists have aset of skills that the non-academic world values."New house says that this is the first year OCS hashad formal business recruiting of Ph.Ds bycompanies such as McKinsey, Monitor and Banker'sTrust.

But physicists aren't making theirpresence felt only in the business world.Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor ofHistory of Science Emeritus Gerald Holton saysthat law and politics are other areas physicsPh.Ds are pursuing.

"About half the bills that go through Congresshave a markedly prominent science or technicalcomponent," says Holton. "So people who havescience backgrounds are very badly needed inCongress or as staffers." Currently, the head ofthe Congressional committee on Science, Space andTechnology is George Brown, Jr. (D-Calif.) who hasa Ph.D in physics.

Then there are individuals like Michael S.Pavloff '88, who concentrated in physics and wenton to become a gourmet chef at Boston'sL'Espalier. Pavloff's career choice was notmotivated by the physics job market, but rather bya genuine interest in cooking. L'Espalier's owner,a former government concentrator at Harvard,offered Pavloff a job during his senior year.

After a year of cooking, Pavloff went on towork as an engineer. "The thing that drove me awayfrom cooking is in the end, no matter how creativeit is, it's not intellectually stimulating. Theone thing I needed was to keep my mind alive."

As Pavloff illustrates, physics graduates'decisions to pursue alternate careers are oftenmotivated by genuine interests rather than poorjob prospects doing physics.

For Rohan J. Hoare, a physics Ph.D who begantaking business courses in graduate school, hiseventual career choice was "a matter of someevolving interests." Hoare now works for McKinseyin Los Angeles.

Yet, the job market still remains aconcern not only for physics students, but alsofor Harvard's physics department. Howard Georgi,chair of the department, says, "Given theuncertainty in the physics job market, we want tokeep flexible and open."

With no required thesis for undergraduatehonors physics concentrators and relatively few,though difficult courses to take, Georgi saysphysics lends itself to interdisciplinary tracksof study.

When asked whether interdisciplinary studyopens up career and research opportunities forphysics concentrators, Georgi says, "That's ourtheory, although we're not able to prove that."

This year, 31 percent of physics concentratorsare pursuingcondary fields of study. Andrew J. Yu'94 is a concentrator in Physics and East AsianStudies. Yu initially tried to do a jointconcentration with physics and economics, but sayshe did not find the economics department veryaccommodating.

After taking some Japanese history courses, Yudecided to declare East Asian Studies as asecondary concentration. "One thing that I didn'twant to end up as was a science concentrator byitself. I wanted to integrate some sort ofhumanities into my curriculum," says Yu.

His fluency in Japanese and understanding ofJapanese culture helped Yu land a job next year ata superconductor company in Japan.

Vikram A. Savkar '94 is a concentrator inphysics and classics. "The reason I did it wasbecause I had always liked both subjects, althoughphysics is what I want to do with my life," hesays.

Savkar, who intends on staying in academia andearning a Ph.D in physics, says that bothdepartments were extremely accommodating. The lackof a thesis and tutorial requirement for physicshelped him manage both discplines at once, saysSavkar.

A more common joint concentration isphysics and astronomy. One such concentrator, MarcJ. Kuchner '94, will be attending graduate schoolnext year at either Harvard or the CaliforniaInstitute of Technology. In terms of getting intograduate school, Kuchner does not think that hisjoint concentration made much of a difference.

"I could have just done a physics major, butthe astronomy department's great for the ratio offaculty to students," says Kuchner. "I know a lotof physics majors who feel very neglected. Mostpeople who do physics and something else seem alot happier."

Fellow physics and astronomy concentrator TonyH. Wong '94 agrees. "The physics department is afairly large department and sometimes it can be abit intimidating. The astronomy department issmaller and you get to know some of theprofessors," says Wong. "It's the best of bothworlds."

Both Wong and Kuchner say they were partlyinfluenced to declare physics as their primaryconcentration by the lack of a thesis and tutorialrequirement.

But others, like Cynthia B. Phillips '95,secretary of the Society for Physics Students, saythey would rather have a thesis and tutorial--andchoose physics only as a secondary concentrationbecause of its lack of these requirements.

Phillips, whose primary concentration isastronomy and intends to spend this summer at theUniversity of Arizona watching a comet crash intoJupiter, says, "I find the physics itself kind ofdry but once I get into an astrophysics coursewith applications, I find the physics much easierto learn."

It was applications that led Bo Y. Shao '95 tobecome a physics and engineering concentrator."Initially I felt that physics was verytheoretical, especially at Harvard, and I justliked to see some application with something likeengineering," Shao says.

Professor Emeritus Holton, who helped establisha teacher certification program for physicsconcentrators, says of interdisciplinary studies,"It's terribly satisfying for students here to usethe resources to go beyond one lab building."

While joint concentrations arefulfilling for many students, there is debate asto whether such courses of study significantlyincrease one's career opportunities. VineerBhansali, a Ph.D from Harvard and now a vicepresident at Citicorp in New York says, "Itdoesn't matter if you have two or three majorsbecause when you get into Wall Street you have tore-learn everything anyway."

Bhansali, who also recruits for Citicorp, saysin reference to the banking industry, "It's a verypersonality-oriented field. You have to be verydynamic." In fact, Bhansali says applicants'undergraduate concentrations figure little in thehiring process, as long as candidates showcompetence and a keen interest in the what they'redoing.

And Hoare says, "Most important is having aninquisitive mind and having very good socialskills."

Individuals such as Bhansali and Hoare see theglut in the physics job market as being cyclicaland advise students to pursue lines of study thatinterest them, not just those that they think willset them up in terms of a career.

"I think it would be a terrible tragedy ifpeople decided not to go into physics because thejob market is bad," says Hoare. He added, "There'sstill going to be positions and still a lot ofwork to be done."

Peter L. Galison, Mallinckrodt professorof the history of science and of physics, providesanother perspective to interdisciplinary studies."Often times these interdisciplinary areas growinto areas in their own right," says Galison, whois also chair of the department of History ofScience.

Such seems to be the case with AssistantProfessor of Psychiatry Dr. Jeffrey P. Sutton.Sutton is a physician who has combined bothclinical neuroscience and theoretical physics tostudy the human brain.

Sutton, who did his residency at the MedicalSchool, received an M.A. in neuroscience, a Ph.Din theoretical physics and a M.D. from theUniversity of Toronto.

"Jeffrey is a singular individual in being thephysicist and the psychiatrist," says Dr. JosephT. Coyle, Draper professor of psychiatry andneuroscience. "There are very few people inpsychiatry that bring background that is groundedin rigorous physics and informed by clinicalpsychiatric expertise," says Coyle, who is chairof the Medical School's department of psychiatry.

"He and people like him are changing the way wethink of psychiatrists and the way psychiatryoperates," says Assistant Professor of PsychiatryJon Rady. "Jeff's nontraditional route from mathto physics to medicine to psychiatry is not goingto be uncommon in the future."

Dr. Sutton says that the opportunity tointegrate both fields is extremely rewarding forhim.

"Sometimes an interdisciplinary approach canlead to new ways of solving problems, can be verygratifying and doesn't have to be an either/or,"says Sutton.CrimsonJosh A. FieldsSoRelle B. BraunPhysical Evidence An examination of thecollegiate decisions of physics concentrators:

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