Ben Pollard re-defines physics culture

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I expected Ben Pollard to be aligning lasers in a dark basement. As a sixth year graduate student in the Department of Physics, he anticipates defending his PhD research this spring. However, he actually spends much of his time connecting with other physics students on a personal level. Their main question: how do you change the culture of physics and build community from within? Ben’s answer is finding a way “to cultivate physicists as people.”

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No Paine, No Gain

Picture a scientist. If you don’t know many scientists, you might picture a man with glasses wearing a white coat, perhaps with grey hair in disarray, holding a microscope or a flask of green liquid, like most children do. But when introduced to real scientists, a child’s picture changes – now there are women, people of color, very few white coats, and more holey jeans and t-shirts. And if these kids met the aptly named Alex Paine, PhD candidate in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, they’d draw another type of scientist – one with grapefruit sized calves and a back rippled with muscles: a body builder.

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Graduate Student Snapshot: Joel Basken

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To-do lists can plague graduate students. Experiments to complete, forms to fill out, papers to read, papers to write – these lists are filled with tasks that drag on (or are put off) for years. For one graduate student, the list literally goes on and on, but not in the way you’d expect. Joel Basken, a 6th year PhD candidate in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB), is famous in his home department and beyond for many things, but his incomparable lists make him a grad student hero.

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Graduate Student Snapshot: Michael Skirpan

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Currently a PhD candidate in the computer science department working with Tom Yeh, Michael studies how to visualize and analyze large data. With a philosophy and education background, he has a keen interest in starting a school based on democratic learning environments. He has also accomplished what many people attempt, but few succeed at: blending the worlds of science and art. In his quest to blend the two, Michael is working on an art proposal that will bring STEM and art majors together.

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Graduate Student Snapshot: Karim Derqaoui

Even though he’s only been in Colorado for a few months, Karim has already begun to adopt the Boulder lifestyle by summiting Bear Peak when it was still covered in snow and ice.  There’s nothing like jumping in with both feet, right? After spending some time with him, I would say that phrase describes Karim well— he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t do things halfway.

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Graduate Student Snapshot: Simone Hyater-Adams

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Growing up completely immersed in the world of performing arts, Simone had no idea how one physics class would change the course of her life. During her junior year in high school Simone really connected with her physics teacher, an ex-military engineer with a dry sense of humor, and suddenly physics was all she wanted to do. “I’ve always been the type of person to ask questions about the world and life, like really abstract things that my mom would get annoyed with me for asking. I went to physics and I was like ‘This is answering every question I’ve ever had about the world, I’m going to go to school for physics.’”

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Graduate Student Snapshot: Christopher Moore

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Being as connected to geek culture as I am, when I went to meet Christopher Moore at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA), I was expecting someone reminiscent of the characters from The Big Bang Theory. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he doesn’t collect light sabers and does not have a World of Warcraft account-although I was somewhat disappointed that we weren’t going to bond over a mutual enthusiasm for Marvel.

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Graduate Student Snapshot: Shalaya Kipp

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Graduate school is a balancing act for most of us. We all have to juggle coursework, research, teaching, and perhaps some semblance of a social life. For Shalaya Kipp, a 1st year Integrative Physiology graduate student in Dr. Rodger Kram’s locomotion lab, this delicate balance consists of fulfilling graduate school responsibilities while training as a professional athlete.

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