Tianji Cai, B.S. 2017

PhD Candidate at University of California – Santa Barbara, California

2017 Major: Physics and Mathematics; minor in Philosophy

How has being a Physics graduate from Duke helped shape you personally and/or professionally?

"The physics research experience I had at Duke helped me immensely both in terms of personal and professional development. It made me realize that I love doing research and love always learning about the latest developments through reading papers and attending conferences. It helped me to decide to apply for a physics graduate program and choose my current research area. The presentation skills I developed through the undergraduate advanced experiments course also helped me a lot along the way. I was fortunate enough to attend a major international conference during my fourth year and that experience definitely opened my mind and showed me the larger scientific community."

What advice would you give students in Duke's Physics programs? 

"1. Try to start doing some research projects as early as possible, even if you have not taken the necessary courses. Find a nice professor, go to their group meetings, read some papers. Even though it feels pretty intimidating and overwhelming at first, you will still learn a LOT merely by being present and listening to others (PhD students, postdocs, and professors) chatting about physics. It's okay if you don't understand anything, and it's okay if you feel like you would never achieve the same level of professionalism. You WILL ACHIEVE IT one day. Just keep going and don't put too much pressure on yourself. Immerse yourself in the environment and see whether you like it or not.

2. Try to attend some conference and present your work, either through a poster or by giving a talk. You will learn a lot from others' feedbacks and also from what your peers are doing.

3. Do remember to take any class that interests you outside physics. It is important at the undergraduate stage to explore as much as you can and learn from a wide range of subjects. Take some literature classes, some music classes, some philosophy classes, etc. Make full use of what Duke has to offer as a great university. It's always good to first be a scholar who is excited by knowledge in general, and then be a specialist who excels in a particular field. The former is probably (in my view) more of the job of an undergraduate program, while the latter is for a phd."

Tianji Cai