Dr. Asa Hopkins ’01 returned to campus on Monday, and spoke to an intimate group of physics majors about his unusual career trajectory. Though Hopkins graduated Haverford with a B.S. in physics and later earned his doctorate at Caltech, his current gig as an assistant to Undersecretary Steve Koonin at the Department of Energy (on an AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellowship) isn’t directly related to his physics coursework or research. So over cookies and juice, Hopkins gamely answered questions from the eager student-scientists about the importance of graduate studies and summer research opportunities and the different kinds of jobs a physics major might find. “I didn’t realize I had skills,” joked the humble Hopkins of starting his postdoctoral fellowship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “until people started asking me questions, and I thought, ‘Oh, I can answer that.’”
Hopkins has worked on energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings at Berkeley Lab, and credits his life-long personal interest in politics with steering him toward policy work when it became clear, halfway through his graduate studies, that he didn’t want to become an academic. He urged the assembled students to likewise discover and cultivate their own interests to help guide them toward the specific career that would best suit them. He also said that, even though he hasn’t used his degree to become a professor, the work that it took to earn it basically gave him a “Ph.D in problem-solving,” skills that are applicable across many fields.
The casual roundtable discussion, which was organized by Jerry Gollub, professor of physics, was a wonderful way for students to broaden their perspectives on their future and a chance for Hopkins to reassure them that their Haverford education will serve them well, no matter what they end up doing.