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An Ode to the BC Physics Department

“May your temperatures be low, and may your photon sources, like your future, be bright.” 

If you have ever had a conversation with me exceeding a few minutes’ length, you likely know that I’m a physics major. You probably know that even before you know where I’m from or my last name, because it’s something I just don’t shut up about.

HiggInsideWebEarlier this month, I attended a lab opening ceremony in the physics department, complete with champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, and a big red ribbon symbolically cut to open the hallway to the new facility. The newly opened lab will be headed by Professor Ruihua He, a new faculty member in the department. Putting aside the physics garble, Professor He describes his area of interest as “understanding the microscopic behaviors of electrons in solids beyond the description by solid state physics textbooks.” Pretty cool stuff.

After the champagne had been distributed (to those over 21, of course) Professor He gave his thanks to the department for the support that it has given him thus far. He listed the many things being at BC has given him the chance to do for the first time, including running his own lab. Before the ribbon was cut, a fellow professor wished him the best of luck, with the toast you see above. That sentiment of camaraderie encapsulates an atmosphere within the department that, in my experiences with it so far, has continually reaffirmed my major choice.

Typically, when one thinks of Boston College, physics is not the first area of study that comes to mind. It may not come to mind at all. Before I chose to come to BC, I visited campus and met with a random guy whose e-mail I found on the department webpage, a man I now recognize as Professor Graf. I was hesitant about studying physics here because of the small size of the department. I associated small size with a small amount of resources, and Professor Graf assured me that the opposite was true.

looking_glass1In fact, the department webpage boasts: “As an undergraduate physics major, you will be both academically challenged and intellectually nurtured, with small class sizes starting freshman year (the ratio of undergraduate majors to faculty is ~3:1).”

It is only the beginning of my second year with the program, and I am just beginning to delve into the real physics-y side of things. That being said, so far I have only seen verifications of that claim. The faculty members I approach within the department are enthusiastic and supportive, and they genuinely want to help students who share their love of physics. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out of a professor’s office (or the office of any physics staff member, really,) to a friendly “You don’t have to bother e-mailing me first, just stop by whenever you want and I’ll be glad to sit and talk,” “Feel free to check back in with me and discuss the progress you’re making,” or “I’m so excited to hear you want to pursue a career in physics. We will do whatever we can to help you out.”

Physics is hard. No way around that fact. Sometimes I doubt that I can graduate with both a major in physics and a decent GPA. Labs can be tedious, homework can be nearly impossible, and a quite large male-to-female ratio can be daunting. But the wonderful people of Boston College’s physics department never fail to reassure me. Whether it’s my advisor, Professor Madhavan, making me feel like an important member of the community, or Professor Naughton telling me that he boldly promises 100% of interested undergraduates research positions, or Professor Herczynski cracking jokes such as “Everything in the world undergoes oscillations. Even things physicists don’t pay attention to… like emotions,” at the opening of a lecture.

Though I still have a long way to go, I want to thank the physics department, as Professor He did, for already helping me in myriad ways. As my undergrad career continues, I know I’ll only become more indebted to a department that I consider one of the hidden jewels of Boston College.

One Comment

  1. Bravo, Erin! You’re not only taking ‘the hard stuff’ but enjoying it!

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