Mentoring younger students helps to boost theoretical physicist's profile.
Yogesh Joglekar, a theoretical physicist at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), this year became a visiting scholar at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
How did you move from India to Indiana?
After my master's degree in abstract mathematical physics at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, I wanted to do something more concrete. I applied to numerous places for a PhD, but ended up at Indiana University in Bloomington, in part because I had the chance to combine theoretical and applied research by doing condensed-matter physics. I studied quantum Hall conductance, which is found in two-dimensional electron systems in strong magnetic fields.
You did one short and one long postdoc. Why?
I went to the University of Kentucky in Lexington for nine months with a short-term goal — to learn a method for studying the quantum Hall effect, with Ganpathy Murthy. But to expand my skills, I also applied for multi-year postdocs. I moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to learn about high-temperature superconductivity. It was not academia, but not industry, and I wanted to experience that. But it became obvious that high-impact research could be difficult in a 15-year-old field where advances were incremental — especially at that stage of my career.
How did you carve out your faculty niche?
I came to the IUPUI in December 2005, when graphene research was taking off. I saw an opportunity because electrons in graphene are two-dimensional systems, like those I worked with on the quantum Hall effect.
You have done a short stint as a visitor at Kavli before. How did that help your career?
At Kavli, theorists and experimentalists are given space to work together and exchange ideas. In 2009, I attended a workshop there for three weeks. It was helpful to interact with a variety of experts who could help me to figure out how to run my experiments. The IUPUI has a 13-person physics faculty, whereas other, larger universities can have 20 faculty members in condensed-matter physics alone. Kavli visits are ideal for active researchers at smaller institutions.
How has branching out altered your teaching?
I have been able to find research areas that are amenable to involving undergraduate and school students. I strongly believe that research should be accessible at every level, to help future scientists to learn problem-solving. In the past few years, I have had 19 peer-reviewed publications — of which six are with undergraduate students, and two with high-school students. My youngest co-author, Jacob Barnett, was 13 years old when we published on theoretical physics in 2011. He was the youngest-ever author in Physical Review A, and was featured on the US television news programme 60 Minutes.
What has been the impact of involving students in your work?
It was a key to my career success — one that I did not appreciate at first. I had not been including my mentoring efforts in grant applications for graphene research because the students were working on different topics. But I kept being told that the broader-impact elements of my proposals were not strong enough. A programme officer pointed out that any research involving younger students counts on grants. I included it in my next application and received a CAREER grant for faculty early-career development from the US National Science Foundation.
Do you encourage colleagues to involve young students, too?
Yes. Research and teaching are two sides of the same coin. If you focus on research accessible to the postdoc or PhD student, you are tapping only a small part of the work that can be done. With MATLAB and other sophisticated software, what a student can do has changed dramatically. For theoretical physicists, it is definitely worth exploring.
Interview by Virginia Gewin
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Gewin, V. Turning point: Yogesh Joglekar. Nature 494, 139 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7435-139a