Physics Grad Discusses Her Work at Drexel and Her Future at Duke

Wendy Harris

June 17, 2013 — Physics senior Wendy Harris has made quite an impression during her time at Drexel. As the recent graduate prepares for her next step as a Ph.D. candidate at Duke, she leaves behind a legacy of outreach and inspiration.

Q: From your freshman STAR research with David Goldberg to your co-ops at Columbia and Princeton, you have been engaged in one exciting research project after another. What was your favorite and why?
A: All of my research experiences have been great for different reasons. My STAR research, along with my first co-op with Dr. Goldberg, taught me that I enjoy theoretical, analytical thinking. I learned that I really enjoy computer programming, and I learned key skills that helped me on my following co-ops. During my time at Princeton, I was working with a female professor, female post-doc and female graduate student. It was during my second co-op at Princeton that I became more conscious of the fact that men and women work differently, and having a core group of females working together was very beneficial for me. I started the Women in Physics Society at Drexel when I came back in the fall because of this. My experience at Columbia was great because I was conducting medical physics research. The experience solidified my desire to pursue a degree in that area and it made me incredibly excited to return in the fall and start filling out graduate school applications. All three of my advisors—Dr. Dave Goldberg, Dr. Suzanne Staggs (Princeton) and Dr. Cheng-Shie Wuu (Columbia)—were amazing and really helped shape me, professionally and personally.

Q: Tell us more about the Women in Physics Society, which you started with fellow physics student Mary Chessey. Will you continue to outreach to aspiring young female physicists after you leave here?
A: I’ll definitely keep outreaching to aspiring young female physicists. Starting WIPS is one of the best things I’ve been involved with here at Drexel. It was a pivotal moment in my college career. It really brought all of the undergraduate female physics majors together and we are now a really close-knit group of friends. We have also started to have joint graduate and undergraduate WIPS events, which has been a lot of fun. Outreaching to young girls to encourage them to pursue degrees in physics is one of the most important things I can do throughout my career. It is important for young female scientists to have role models, and I have met many successful female physicists who have inspired me and served as mentors and role models to me. I wish to do the same for younger girls.

Q: You’re also an active member of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) here on campus—an organization that garners awards year-after-year for its outreach work with high school students. How do you think this group impacted where you are today?
A: I am so happy and proud to be a member of the Society of Physics Students. I joined during my freshmen year and became active in outreach pretty immediately. The group has been great and has helped me to get to know my classmates, explore things around the city and, of course, conduct outreach. There is no greater feeling than seeing younger students who are so interested in science and knowing that you have made an impact on their lives. It also is a great opportunity to mentor kids and encourage them to pursue formal study of science.

Q: While there are surely many in the Department of Physics who helped you along your journey at Drexel, was there anyone that played a particularly pivotal role? How did they help?
A: Dr. Dave Goldberg played a particularly important role during my time at Drexel. I started working with Dr. Goldberg during the summer after my freshman year conducting research, and he has continued to be incredibly supportive and motivational to me throughout my time here. He is always available to offer advice, give support and help me solve problems, and I am so grateful to have had him as a professor, mentor and role model throughout my time at Drexel. Dr. Michel Vallieres, the physics department head, has also always been so supportive regarding SPS and WIPS activities. Other people in the physics department who have been fundamental during my time at Drexel include Dr. Brigita Urbanc, Dr. Luis Cruz Cruz, and Laura D’Angelo. They have all been very nurturing and collegial.

Q: We hear Duke is patiently awaiting your arrival next fall. What will you be studying there? And what are your post-grad plans?
A: I’m very anxious to start at Duke in the fall! I will be pursing a Ph.D. in medical physics, which includes radiation oncology and diagnostic imaging, as well as nuclear and health physics. My main interests are in radiation oncology: figuring out the best way to treat cancer using radiation therapy. Physicists can have clinical roles, as well as conduct research. They create treatment plans for patients and help develop instruments and technology used for diagnostic radiology, among other things. Ultimately, I hope to be a medical physicist, working at a university-affiliated hospital, conducting research, doing clinical work, and teaching. I am excited to be able to bring all of the skills and knowledge that I have accumulated at Drexel with me to Duke.