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A Last Minute Decision Leads to a Ph.D. in Physics

Alumnus Robert Perry obtained his BA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD; not the typical undergraduate degree from a Professor of Physics at Ohio State University. In fact, throughout his undergraduate education, Perry’s intentions were to attend law school.

“At the last minute in my senior year at St. John’s, I decided to first obtain a Master’s Degree in physics,” said Perry. “A good friend from St. John’s, Richard Smith, was attending the University of Maryland, so in February of my senior year, I applied there. I ended up in physics almost by accident.”

Perry started the program having never solved a differential equation and without ever studying physics at an advanced undergraduate level. This was quickly discovered after being interviewed by faculty and students, who advised Perry to start a remedial course of study. Instead, he took advice from Smith, and enrolled in advanced undergraduate courses on electromagnetism and modern physics. Two semesters later, he took the graduate sequence and joined the nuclear theory group.

“I did not know what area I wished to enter, but my graduate quantum mechanics course was taught by one of the best teachers I have ever had, Joe Redish,” said Perry. “Joe is a nuclear theorist, I wanted to work with him so I entered nuclear theory. I had no thought of ever getting a faculty position, I simply wanted to survive graduate school.”

However, with the help of his advisors, Joe Redish and Manoj Bannerjee, and several other excellent mentors, Perry became one of a new generation of nuclear theorists with training in relativistic field theories and launched on a program of research that continues to this day.

“Working in the nuclear theory group at Maryland was a fantastic experience,” said Perry. “Joe Redish allowed me to pursue research that interested me, whether it was directly related to his work or not.”

Now, Perry teaches, continues research in nuclear theory and spends an inordinate amount of time on university services. (He is currently chair of Ohio State’s Faculty Council). There seems to be less and less freedom in academia every year, with an ever increasing focus on external funding, but teaching has always been rewarding for Perry, who was recently awarded the 2008 OSU Distinguished Teaching Award.

”Do what you love,” he advises current students. “You can’t predict opportunity.”



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