For adventurous physicists, D.C. holds jobs, speaker says
|Clark Cully, a former Fermilab physicist, left in January 2008 for a program at the National Academies of Science in Washington, D.C. He spoke Sept. 30 at a Fermilab symposium.
Federal agencies, think tanks and contractors in Washington, D.C., are eager to fill positions with people grounded in hard sciences, said a former Fermilab physicist at a Sept. 30 symposium.
Clark Cully spent five years as a graduate student searching for heavy W bosons using data collected at CDF, but he left particle physics in 2008 for a career in the capitol.
Cully, who recently took a two-year job as a Presidential Management Fellow for the Department of Defense, encouraged other Fermilab scientists to consider work in Washington, D.C. He said an ability to learn new material and process technical information quickly is a desirable quality in the nation's capitol.
"Physicists are good arguers, we're good strategists, we're really good at jumping into this battle of ideas," Cully said in his talk. "Physicists have that logic to engage in a topic and to find and drive home a core issue."
When he left Fermilab in January 2008 for back-to-back six-month programs at the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Energy, Cully had his doubts.
"I was a little torn," Cully said. "How could I feel generally as intellectually satisfied in Washington, D.C., as I did when I was trying to solve the mysteries of the world?"
Soon after beginning work, Cully found that satisfaction once he began sorting through complex government problems. Although physicists going to D.C. probably won't use particle physics directly, their knowledge base and thought process will distinguish them from the many lawyers populating the field, Cully said.
Switching to a career in government service isn't for everyone, Cully said. Those considering a switch should have a broad interest in all areas of science and an ability to communicate with non-scientists, he said, along with a tolerance for unpredictable work and long hours.
Cully recommended programs through the National Academy of Sciences and American Association for the Advancement of Science, and others, such as the Presidential Management Fellows Program and the Nonproliferation Graduate Program.
— Chris Knight