Q&A with Brad Conrad, New Director of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma

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Dr. Brad Conrad.SPS is pleased to welcome Dr. Brad Conrad as the Director of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society.  

Dr. Conrad was most recently Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University (AppState) in Boone, NC, where he served as SPS Chapter Advisor. He was an SPS member at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where he completed his undergraduate degree, and he received his PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park. Conrad has been an active volunteer at SPS/APS (American Physical Society) undergraduate research sessions and has served on several APS task forces on graduate students and early career physicists. 

The SPS national office recently sat down with Dr. Conrad to learn more about him and his involvement with SPS.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I am originally from the Washington, DC area and very glad to be coming home. I've earned a B.S. in Physics with a minor in Modern World History from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a Ph.D in Physics from the University of Maryland College Park. Before accepting this new position, I was a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University in western North Carolina.

Q: How did you first get involved with SPS?

A: I got involved fairly early in my local SPS chapter. One of our first big events was to organize an intramural soccer team called h-bar. We never won our division, but I still keep a photo of all of us on my desk. Even though our department was small, the camaraderie and sense of community I gained from SPS gave me the home I desperately needed. I'd probably not be a physicist without that SPS chapter. 

Q: What excites you most about your new position as Director of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma?

A: More than anything, I want to make the society as important to our members as it was to me in college. It was the one place I could be myself and I want every SPS member to feel that they are not alone on their journey and that the community is watching out for them. 

Q: Can you share a little about your career path?

A: I like to say that my career more resembles a stochastic random walk than an actual mapped out path. I began college not really knowing what I wanted to major in but the desire to understand our world drove me to keep studying physics and progress through graduate school. The love of science drove me to graduate school. Upon graduation, I worked in the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory (EEEL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with brilliant scientists and engineers. While immensely gratifying, I felt a need to teach and went to AppState as a professor and researcher. My time there was focused on making the world a better place through the study of new carbon-based electronic materials and examining quantum phenomena at nanoelectronic interfaces. 

Q: What might our members be surprised to know about you?

A: Well, I am a huge eSports fan, a connoisseur of web comics, and I brew beer when I get the chance.

Q: Can you name someone who has had a tremendous impact on you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

A: One of the most profound mentors and friends I have had is my undergraduate mentor and friend John Andersen. He was always the person who challenged my deepest held assumptions, assisted me in applying for summer internships, and encouraged me to learn for the sake of knowing the truth of things. When I considered transferring schools at the end of my sophomore year, it was the realization that I already had people like John Andersen in my life that kept me at RIT.  To this day he remains a close friend and trouble instigator. 

Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking about getting involved with SPS?

A: Now is always the best time to start! Let's face it, there are not that many physics and astronomy students. No matter where we end up, we are all lifelong members of a community and the best thing you can do is network. Get to know your fellow physicists and astronomers. The people you'll meet will end up being your future colleagues, friends, and global leaders. The connections you make through SPS last a lifetime.

About SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) is a professional association explicitly designed for students. Membership, through collegiate chapters, is open to anyone interested in physics. Within SPS is housed Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, which elects members on the basis of outstanding academic achievement.  This unique two-in-one society operates within the American Institute of Physics, a federation of physical science societies.