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Matthew Parsons, Physics '16

Matthew Parsons

Please tell us a little about yourself
I am a third year physics major concentrating on mathematics, and am also enrolled in the Pennoni Honors Program. I am currently the Secretary of the Drexel Chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), and am a member of Drexel CRU and the Drexel French Club. I have also recently begun a volunteer position with the American Physical Society as the Electronic Media Editor for the Forum on Physics and Society.

Have you received any awards or scholarships while here at Drexel?
Here at Drexel I have been recognized by the Department of Physics with the Walter R. Coley Award (2012) and the M. Russell Wehr Award (2013). This year I have been nominated by the Drexel Fellowships Office to apply for the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. I was also just awarded a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship from the U.S. Department of Energy, which means I’ll be spending at least part of my next coop working at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory!

How was your co-op experience?
I spent my first coop at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) working with the Material Measurement Laboratory. The title of “physical scientist” offered me the opportunity to do everything from materials analysis and electrochemistry to software development and numerical analysis, not to mention working at a nuclear reactor. I was very intimidated to be working for a chemistry group when I began, but I soon found that I was well-prepared and that I even had some of my own unique skills to complement the work of an analytical chemist.

The single, largest project that I worked on at NIST was actually not an assignment but a project that I developed out of personal interest. While reading through the literature to learn all the details I could about the experimental technique I was using, I came up with an idea for an iterative procedure for refining the analysis results. I ended up developing a software package to implement my ideas, which has led to a few invited talks, including one at the American Nuclear Society’s Winter Meeting (2013), and potentially a single-authored publication.

Drexel and the Physics Program
I was asked to comment about what has made my experience at Drexel unique, why I would recommend the physics program here and what advice I would give to a high school student looking for an undergraduate program, but the answer to these questions really all go together.

The obvious answer for the uniqueness of Drexel is the coop program. If you have heard anything about Drexel, that’s it, and for good reason. The opportunity to commit yourself full time to work in the field you are studying is invaluable for helping you decide what path you want to head down with your degree. Speaking practically, you want to find an undergraduate program that will prepare you for a career and help you stand out as a job candidate. The best preparation for a career is simply experience, and nothing makes you stand out more than having worked full time in the field you’re studying. In that regard there is nothing that compares to a coop program.

I think Drexel’s program is also unique in a few other ways. In comparison to other universities, the department does an excellent job in providing students with computational skills that are invaluable in every area of STEM and beyond. What I like best about the program is probably the ability to customize your schedule. I have been able to take a variety of classes outside of my core requirements, including piano lessons, French, materials engineering and graduate-level math courses, and I know for certain that universities operating on a semester system do not offer students the flexibility to do that. The Physics Department also just went through the process of revamping their curriculum, so it will be even easier in the future for students to sample classes outside of the physics department to explore other things.