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Q&A with Alumnus David McGady

David McGady graduated from UMD this past spring. Since May, he has worked with Professor Tom Cohen to better understand some aspects of the Schwinger mechanism. He is an NSF Graduate Fellow. This fellowship will help support his graduate studies at Princeton University for three years. Below, David answered a few questions regarding his experience at Maryland.

What led you to the University of Maryland?

I had wanted to get an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland since the summer between 7th and 8th grade: when I realized that I wanted to seriously study physics. I knew that Maryland generally was a very good school across a broad range of academic disciplines. Further, I was specifically aware that the Physics Department was very well regarded---having consistently ranked 13th or 14th in the nation over the decade or more.

How would you describe your experience here?

My experiences here have been extremely positive, and I am confident that in my time here I have had the opportunity and support to build strong backgrounds in both research and in undergraduate physics.

In particular, since the second day of my freshman orientation program I have been involved in undergraduate research. In my time as an undergraduate in the Physics Department, I had the privilege of working in three different research groups, where I worked on both experimental and theoretical problems in High Energy Physics (Supersymmetry), Condensed Matter (Superconductivity) and Nuclear/Particle Physics (Chiral Symmetry in QCD, and Strong-Field QED).

Where are you currently working?

I currently work with Dr. Cohen in the TQHN (Theoretical Quarks, Hadrons and Nuclei) group in the department. I am working on two theoretical papers concerning the "Schwinger Mechanism" ---which refers to particle-antiparticle pair creation in the presence of a strong electric field.

What are you required to do?

My position entails the following day-to-day activities:

1. Read recent articles in the field to understand new developments and possibly identify fruitful new lines of research;
2. Perform literature searches to find out whether or not a particular line of research has already been pursued, and if so, to what extent the associated questions have been answered;
3. Do calculations---both proof-of-principle order-of-magnitude estimates, and more precision calculations---to study specific aspects of previously unanswered, or otherwise unaddressed theoretical questions; and finally
4. Contributing to the writing and/or editing of papers which summarize the results of these new calculations/findings.

Do you enjoy it?

Doing theoretical physics has been my dream job since I was 13-years old: I enjoy it very much, and am very lucky to have had the chance to work on current problems in theoretical physics as an undergraduate at Maryland. Further, I am looking forward to my time as a Physics Graduate Student at Princeton.

I would like to stress that Maryland's Physics Department is in the vast minority: most schools in the nation do not offer many (or even any) chances for undergraduates to work on real, active, problems in theoretical physics.

What advice would you give current students?

This is a fantastic department with vast resources. If you are willing to take advantage of them, then you can learn a lot, and do rather well for yourself. Classes are very important. Pay attention, work with other students if you're stuck (physics is a collaborative effort), and knock on professor's doors to ask for help if you are lost. The professors' asked to teach the major's courses are, as a rule (which are, however, made to be broken), very good and very patient.

However, classes are half of it: they are the background knowledge needed to look into the unknown aspects of nature, of physics. This is a huge department with many opportunities for willing and hardworking students to do research in almost any branch of physics---from theoretical high energy physics to experimental condensed matter and AMO physics. I would strongly urge students to take advantage of them. (Ask Tom Gleason [Physics Undergraduate Advisor] if you need guidance here.)

Do you remember any problems that you faced while here?

Everything has its faults, but the problems that I can remember having to deal with were typically beyond the departmental level. Signing up for graduate physics classes was difficult as an undergraduate---which is an almost most, for theoretically inclined and curious students---and signing up for more than 16 credits, again, an almost must for motivated students. Especially for the multiple- major and/or degree students.


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