PhD/Physics & Astronomy
Michigan State University
Before going to MSU, Adam was a research assistant and an IACS Jr. Researcher Award
winner at Stony Brook University. Here he obtained his PhD, working in the astronomy
group under the advisement of Prof. Michael Zingale. He came to Stony Brook by way
of a dual degree in physics and computer science from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.
He was born and raised in Arkansas, growing up in the town of Benton.
Adam is a Research Associate at Michigan State University. He joined MSU as a postdoctoral
fellow in theoretical nuclear astrophysics in the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics
- Center for the Evolution of the Elements. He works with Prof. Ed Brown and Prof.
Hendrik Shatz to push at the frontiers of our understanding of nuclear astrophysics
through the study of type I X-Ray bursts and the nuclear reactions that power them.
The typical day for a postdoc is much like that of academics at various stages (e.g.
grad students and faculty), but you get to focus fairly exclusively on research. My
days often start clearing out my email inbox and scanning the latest papers in my
field. Being at an active research university, many days will include the opportunity
to attend seminars on a variety of topics relevant to my research. No "knowledge work"
is complete without plenty of meetings. I have weekly meetings with collaborators
and colleagues to discuss on-going work. Carrying out my research takes a variety
of forms that will vary day-to-day, but is usually one of: reading the latest research
in my field, writing my own contributions to the latest research in the field, developing
code, running and analyzing the results of my code, or mentoring up-and-coming researchers
in my department.
Finding the Job
Finding a job is quite a stressful venture, and the practices vary so much from field-to-field
that it's hard to give generally usable advice. In astrophysics, there's a fairly
centralized repository of job listings that is used by most of the field. Available
positions are posted mostly in early to mid Fall. I knew I wanted to continue down
the academic path, at least for the moment, so I scanned this job repository and applied
to all positions that looked interesting, a good fit for my expertise, and that would
advance my career. Ultimately, this led me to my current position at MSU.
Advice to Students
Like with finding a job, every discipline is so incredibly different that it's hard
to give advice that's not specific to (astro)physics. Given that, the advice I'd give
myself were I just starting graduate school today would be to focus very intensely
on courses and all other requirements to advance to candidacy. I got involved in many
campus activities and research early in my grad career, and while enriching this didn't
allow me to make advancing to candidacy my primary focus, leading to avoidable struggles,
I ultimately advanced to candidacy, but it could've been a less painful and a shorter
process. Once advanced to candidacy or while on your way to it, it's critical to find
a research group you can be happy spending years of your life in. The number of available
advisors is limited, so you don't have perfect control. But if you focus only on how
interesting the research is or how famous your advisor is, you may miss factors like
what the working environment is, what your advisor's record is at placing their students
in the sorts of positions you'd like upon graduation, what the colleagues (e.g. fellow
grad students) you'll be spending years with are like, etc. Be sure when exploring
research opportunities that you get a broad perspective. One of the primary motivations
for me joining the group I did was the sense of community they fostered and the fact
that even when studies or research were frustrating I always knew I had a welcoming,
supportive, and pleasant work environment to go to. Finally, always be thinking about
the next paper, and be sure to go to conferences at least once a year so that you're
engaging the field with your work.