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Flexible Physics Program Leads to Ph.D. Opportunity

Collin Barker presents physics research at a conference as a Lebanon Valley College undergrad

As a high school student, Collin Barker ’19 enjoyed chemistry and physics. He knew he wanted to pursue one of these subjects as a career, so when it came time to choose a college major, he sided with physics

“At the time, my thinking was that I enjoyed both at a similar level, and working toward a degree in physics would leave me the option to move more toward chemistry later if I’d liked,” he said.

Now, years later, Barker saw just how the flexibility he sought in this major paid off academically. He navigated his way through college, even squeezing in a chemistry minor into a single year.

“LVC’s Physics Program is very flexible; it can be a 3+2 program with engineering—which I also liked having as an option—and if not, there are more higher-level courses available,” he said. “This is helpful, especially if you know you enjoy the subject but aren't 100% sure on what exactly you want to do from there.”

Barker completed research at LVC and Lehigh University, experiences that he highly recommends as they built connections that largely shaped the next steps of his career. In his research at LVC, Barker studied laser-induced crystallization in glass with Dr. Keith Veenhuizen, assistant professor of physics and director of cooperative engineering. The big picture goal was working toward integrated photonics, which can be thought of as integrated circuits in the electronics industry but instead of wires, using crystals as optical interconnects. They even co-presented their research at an international conference.

“The best thing you can do is to reach out to your professors,” he said. “If you are interested in their research, they are happy to talk to you and work with you, and doing this will help with doing research and presentations, and making connections to people in the field. These relationships and experiences are invaluable for progressing further toward your goals.”

With previous summer research experience at Lehigh, Barker chose the famed institution for his Ph.D. and continued his LVC research on glass crystals. He recently started the second of a five-year program.

Along with his research, Barker teaches physics as part of a teaching assistantship. Despite the challenge of managing a full group of physics students, a task that involves running labs, grading assignments, and answering questions, he seems to have discovered a possible future. 

“I found it to be a rewarding experience, and down the line, I know that I would not be opposed to teaching after getting my Ph.D.,” he said. “Helping students overcome whatever they are struggling with and bringing them to the point of realization when they understand something is a wonderful feeling.”

 

-- Darby Seymour, Marketing & Communications Student Assistant