“But I’m also talking about American businessmen doing what they were born to do. Make things. We’ve stopped making and become a country of consumers. Well, I, for one, am done consuming. And I’m ready to make.” -Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock
I don’t normally write about what’s going on in my personal life, but this is an important development, and it affects what I do here at Starts With A Bang, so here goes.
Most of you know how a career as a physicist is supposed to go, much like any academic/science career. You’re supposed to get your degree, go to graduate school and get your Ph.D., work at a post-doc or two (or three) until you’ve got a solid research program developed, get hired as a professor, work for the next five-to-seven years teaching, publishing and getting grants until you’re tenured, and so on. Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics nailed the irony of “academic freedom” when they published this one:
Life as a professor can be a great one if you want it, and it’s extremely highly sought after; the last few Colleges/Universities I’ve worked at received more than 100 job applications (from highly qualified applicants) for each tenure-track job opening in physics.
And although I played no small part in making my own luck, I have certainly been incredibly fortunate on the job front. For the past two years, I’ve been teaching at Lewis & Clark College here in Portland, OR, and it’s been a great experience.
The students there, by and large, have been nothing short of wonderful. From the introductory astronomy student who’s intimidated by math and science but curious anyway, to the physics major who works hard and discovers a well-deserved confidence in their abilities, to the pre-med student who’s been putting off taking physics for years, comes to my office hours every week, and gets an A on every exam, I would daresay that my experience there has been at least as rewarding for me as it has been for any of them. (And based on some of the evaluations I’ve gotten, that’s saying a lot.)
But there are a great many ways I know I can be using my talents for good in this world, and while doing my best as a professor is certainly one way to do that, I’ve had to ask myself if that’s what I want to be doing. It’s something that many academics (and I’m sure, non-academics, too) struggle with.
So I asked myself (and my wife, too; that’s what being a team is) what I encourage all of my students who find themselves dissatisfied to ask themselves, “What would you rather be doing?”
And, as you might expect, the answer was complicated. I love teaching, I like research, and I’ve never cared about grants. I love to travel and see new places, I like being my own boss, and I hate working in large collaborations. I like helping students, I love helping students learn how to help themselves, and I hate when students need help but don’t ask for it.
Being a professor at Lewis & Clark was an opportunity for me to learn a great deal about what students struggle with, what they excel at, what motivates (and demotivates) them, and — perhaps above all else — what sort of help I can give them to help them succeed.
And so, here I am, in early September of 2011, just days after my contract with Lewis & Clark has expired. So, what’s next?
The answer I’ve come up with is helping these kids: the students who need to learn introductory college physics. Over the next few months, I’m going to be using all that I’ve learned teaching, tutoring, and TA-ing introductory physics over the past 14 years (yes, although it’s been off-and-on, it really is that long!) to create the best tutorial product for introductory physics students that I possibly can. And based on this product, I’m going to start my own business as soon as its ready.
So if you or someone you know is taking introductory college physics, AP physics in high school, studying physics for the MCAT, or in need of a refresher on how to solve physics problems, stay tuned! I’m now working full-time on making the best teaching tool I possibly can to help. The first part — a tutorial on mechanics — will be available later this year, while the second part — a tutorial on electromagnetism and modern physics — will be available in the early part of 2012. I will let you know here, first, as soon as I have something available for purchase. It’s going to be great, and I can’t wait to show you.
I can hear some of you wondering to yourselves, “How will this affect this blog?”
I’m hoping the answer is not at all. I still very much enjoy writing about physics, astronomy, cosmology and the Universe for you, and I plan on doing it with just about the same frequency and intensity I’ve been doing it for the past three-and-a-half years.
But this is a huge, exciting development for me, as well as a big challenge, but one that I know that I’m up to. When the time comes, I’m going to ask you to help get the word out. You’ve been a wonderfully supportive community so far, and I can’t wait until I have a finished product to show you! In the meantime, keep enjoying the Universe and I’ll keep bringing it to you!