Sometimes the path to graduation is a straight shot, but other times a student meanders a little along the way. After all, it’s not always easy to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Kevin Sooley’s experience in completing a B.Sc. (Hons.) in physics was a little like that. But in finding out what he didn’t want to do, his true path became clear.
Memorial University is in Mr. Sooley’s blood. His dad, Stephen, is a long-time employee who now supervises the machine shop. His mom, Nada, returned to Memorial to complete a nursing degree in 2006. His younger brother, David, is currently in his first year of studies.
“I always knew I wanted to be a physicist, even in high school,” explained Mr. Sooley. “Originally I wanted to do experimental physics with lasers so I spent four terms doing that, but the summer between my second and third year I became interested in another area when I worked on a project doing simulations with magnetic materials for hard drives.
“However, it wasn’t until my third year, when I did a stellar astrophysics course with Dr. John Lewis, that I finally realized that I wanted to do astrophysics.”
So how does one graduate with a specialty in astrophysics from a university with no astrophysics department? Dr. Lewis says he was particularly impressed with his new student.
“Kevin had next to no knowledge of astrophysics until he took the course,” explained the professor. “But he learned astrophysics thoroughly enough that he ultimately did his thesis on modeling star formations.
“He also impressed the astrophysics folks at McMaster, a very strong department I might add, and will be heading off for graduate work with them in the late summer.”
His recent experience as a tutoring assistant in the first year physics labs has also awakened a previously unknown interest in teaching.
“At first I thought I wouldn’t want to teach but I really enjoyed tutoring,” said Mr. Sooley. “After all, if you discover all of this information and have no one to continue that research after you, then what’s the point? I think it’s important to pass information on to the next generation.”
And though his path to graduation took him down a few side roads, the journey was not wasted.
“I might never again use the skills I learned for making fibre sensors again, but the most important thing I will take away from that time is a way of thinking about how to solve problems, relating it to things you’ve seen before so you don’t always have to come up with a new solution.
“There’s also a notion of collaboration and cooperation at Memorial. It always helps to have another perspective.”