Hidden Physicists

From spandex to blackberries to bioinformatics to flight control to spintronics to wind energy, physicists can be found in nearly every job sector in some of the coolest and most farfetched careers imaginable from the surreal to the strange, from the essential to the eccentric, from the typical to the crazy.

Physics bachelors degree production has decreased in recent years (source: AIP Statistical Research Center).

A physicist is defined as anyone who has a physics degree. Why is this the definition? Because these people have a common set of experiences. Because other disciplines define their constituents in this manner. Because these people are a critical group for academics and future research. And, most importantly, because these are the only people that laugh at jokes involving a priest, a rabbi, and a quantum mechanic. In recent years, the number of physics bachelors degrees awarded has decreased. Therefore, we physicists need to stick together!

Hidden physicists are people with a physics background, but without a typical physics job. Nearly 90% of all physicists are hidden physicists. The following testimonials are taken from Radiations, the physics honor society magazine. The majority of these testimonials are from hidden physicists. They are prime examples of the wide variety of careers available to physics majors - careers you might have never even imagined! The list includes a businesswoman, a speechwriter, a priest, a consultant, an anesthesiologist, a minister, and many many more! Check back for future additions to the list.

Michelle Abboud
American World Services, Washington, DC
After physics, I continued on and received a Masters in foreign service. I am now working with a small international market research firm.

Gretchen Chapman
W.L. Gore & Associates, Elkton, MD
With a BS in physics, doors have opened for me that would have otherwise remained closed. It was proof that I could be analytical and mathematical even though I was female. It also gave me a knowledge base for my career in the computer industry.

David Detwiler
Lockheed Martin Corp., Philadelphia, PA
I have worked since 1984 as a systems engineer primarily on large scale satellite communications systems. My physics background allows me to work the challenging systems issues that cross a variety of engineering and other technical disciplines.

Elliot Fischer
General Dynamics, Whippany, NJ
I received a BS in physics and math and a PhD in applied math with a thesis in general relativity. I have spent all of my career (24 years) developing algorithms and systems for the military. These have included target detection and identification algorithms and adaptive algorithms for active control systems. My knowledge of physics has been instrumental in understanding the sources of noise that I have dealt with, as well as how these sources propagate in various mediums. While I usually do not have a direct hands-on experience with hardware, my physics background allows me to understand how certain pieces of hardware work and what their limitations are. In addition, we tend to do a lot of what is called Systems Engineering and Analysis, and again I have found that a general physics background is very beneficial. More recently, we are getting into fiber optic transmission systems, and a background in physics there allows me to quickly pick up new concepts. In summary, I have found that the physics I learned as an undergrad has provided me with a great background to assimilate new material throughout my career.

David Keskitalo
Detroit Edison, Ypsilanti, MI
I work as a System Engineer at the Fermi 2 nuclear site. Note that this is not a computer position. My current system manager responsibilities include turbine generator controls and auxiliaries. I handle system monitoring, preventive maintenance technical requirements, equipment obsolescence, regulatory and insurance issues, and problem investigations. The investigative work is fun and fast paced and my colleagues are talented, articulate and dedicated. I make a decent living, and we are providing the most environmentally friendly electricity in the area.

Peter E. Walberg
Retired, Forsyth, IL
After ten years in the nuclear navy, the rest of my career was at a nuclear power plant, a majority of it in risk assessment. The knowledge of physics was very beneficial in understanding how things worked.

Michael Long
Director, White House Writers Group, Wash., DC
After earning a BS in physics from Murray State University, and after a year of graduate study in physics at Vanderbilt, I eventually became a freelance speechwriter here in Washington, DC. (I hardly ever write about science, by the way. I write about politics and popular culture.) Physics taught me to break down a problem and see it for exactly what it is, no more and no less. This is the key to clear writing.

John C. Davis
Director, Information Security, Mitretek Systems, McLean, VA
I received a BS in physics in 1961, and an MS in physics in 1962 from Pennsylvania State University. I also received an MS in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1972. I have had a 30+ year career with the National Security Agency (NSA), where I was assigned to senior level technical and managerial positions responsible for various phases of developing, planning, and implementing information protection and information collection solutions. My assignments at NSA included serving as a Commissioner on the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection (PCCIP), and subsequently, as the NSA Senior Representative to the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office. I have also held a number of national-level committee assignments. After leaving NSA in 2000, I became the Director of the Information Security & Privacy Center of Mitretek Systems in McLean, VA.

Elam J. Anderson
McMinnville, OR
While I might be considered a 'hidden physicist,' my personal journey from an AB in physics (Univ. of Redlands, CA) might be a stretch to claim that title. My mentor brother, Victor C. Anderson, preceded me by four years, then advanced to a PhD from UCLA and retired ten years ago as Chairman of Dept. of Electrical Engineering, SDSU, and lead physicist of the Naval Electronic Lab in San Diego. Sobered by his experience in assisting in the Manhattan Project, I turned away from physics to graduate study in psychology (Univ. of Washington) and then to theology at Berkeley, entering the pastoral ministry (12 years with American Baptist, then 36 years with Methodist churches). Supporting a growing family of a wife and ultimately five sons, I often needed supplemental income and there at least, I could thank my undergraduate work in physics for qualifying me as a substitute teacher in earth science and general science. Early in my ministry I recall being encouraged by my Redlands professor, David Soltau, who entered the Episcopal ministry after he retired. Since retiring ten years ago, I have dabbled in astronomy and meteorology, counseling some boy scouts in science-related merit badges, often enjoying NOVA on PBS and other science programs.

J. Ernest Breeding, Jr.
World Class Travel & Tours, Slidell, LA
I was an associate professor for ten years and a research physicist for the Navy for 25 years. I took early retirement and now own a travel business. I have a PhD in geophysics from Columbia University (1972). I make use of my background by leading groups to places like Costa Rica where there are active volcanoes. I provide insight to the geophysical nature of the region including how the region fits into the scheme of continental drift and sea floor spreading. I take advantage of my extensive use of computers in scientific research to be my own webmaster. I also have a web design business and serve as the webmaster for other websites.

Larry Collette
Asset Manager, General Services Admin., Ft. Worth, TX
I was almost drafted when I finished my BS in 1968, but joined the Navy instead. I chose a career in public service, and my jobs since 1972 have all been analytical in nature. I would not be as successful without the skills obtained getting my BS in physics.

John D. S. Gibson Consultant, Bellbrook, OH
I received a BS in physics from Duke University in 1951. My training qualified me for several general and electronics engineering and project leader positions for the first ten years after graduation. It also qualified me to pursue an MS degree in Operations Research. This degree and an Executive Fellowship at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, lead to a long career in supervision of mission and economic analysis, and cost effectiveness studies, usually related to technically complex hardware. This work included a wide range of mathematical modeling activities, ranging from military operations to semiconductor production operations. Between work for two consulting firms, I had career with and retired from the Federal Civil Service. From an economic point of view my most profitable application of my physics background was being able to understand and appreciate the differences in the electron mobility in silicon and Gallium Arsenide semiconductor materials. This understanding resulted in very timely investments in relatively new, yet to make a profit, GaAs semiconductor companies. Of course this game is just beginning with SiGe, SiC, InP and other new materials coming on into increasing use. Good luck if you decide to play the Wall Street game. The logic and order one learns in physics, has also helped my make better decisions as a member of the township Board of Zoning Appeals for the last thirty years.

Hollis P. Behannon
Evangelist, Jasper, TX
Now doing evangelism and preaching the gospel in a lay capacity. Working for the Lord and enjoying it. Very rewarding. Eternal benefits.

Donald W. Goodwin
Chief of Thermodynamics, General Dynamics, Retired, Ft. Worth, TX
I worked for 40 years in the thermo area of the engineering department. I was chief of that function for my last 20 years. Technical areas included: aircraft airconditioning; aerodynamic heating; avionics thermal design; infrared radiation; etc.; fuel and hydraulic systems, heating and cooling. Aircraft products included: B-36, B-58, F111, F16, and F22. Studies included: national aerospace plane; interplanetary propulsion/fuel studies.

Gerald M. Hoffman
The Gerald Hoffman Co., LLC, Chicago, IL
Hoffmann is a consultant in the management of information technology.

Dr. Mohan Raj Obilisundar
Cardiac Anesthesiologist, Garden City, NY
Obilisundar owns a medical business as a cardiac anesthesiologist.

Dr. John P. Riola
Chief Geophysicist, Texaco, Bellaire, TX
After graduating with a BS in physics and mathematics from Baylor University in 1968 and receiving a PhD in physics from Rice University in 1973, I joined Texaco as a geophysicist in its Upstream Technology Organization. I have held numerous technical and managerial positions for Texaco including Division Geophysicist in Midland, TX, and in Denver, CO. I have also served as Geoscience Technology Manager for Texaco in New Orleans, LA, and in Bellaire, TX. After being a member of Texaco's initial Global Exploration Risk and Standards Team, I am now serving as Chief Geophysicist of the Worldwide Exploration Group headquartered in Bellaire, TX. The scientific method of analysis that I learned while majoring in physics and mathematics has proven to be the foundation for my professional career in oil and gas exploration with Texaco. In my career, I have enjoyed the challenge of identifying oil and gas plays and prospects through the application of appropriate technology, appropriate in both a 'technical' and 'economic' sense. In my most recent position, I have enjoyed working with several Texas universities on advisory boards focused on education and research for the energy industry. I expect to retire from Texaco once its merger with Chevron is complete. I would recommend the field of geophysics to any physics major interested in applying his or her physics education to the exploration for and development of economic accumulations of hydrocarbons.

Rick Schluter
Corporate Account Mgr., Crystal Decisions, Sparta, NJ
After receiving a BS in physics and math, I joined the Navy nuclear program as an officer. My last three years there were spent teaching physics at Navy Nuclear Power School, ending as director of the division. After leaving the Navy, I joined Westinghouse and got certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a senior reactor operator instructor. I mainly taught nuclear physics and reactor theory to commercial nuclear plant operators and engineers. Combining nuclear knowledge with communication skills, I started selling training and engineering services to nuclear utilities for Westinghouse. I've been selling business information software to Fortune 500 companies for the last five years. I'm certain that my nuclear physics instruction experience gives me an advantage over my competitors. It has helped me to be able to explain complex software features and benefits to non-technical decision-makers and end users.

 Society of Physics Students