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Kenneth Purcell

Kenny Purcell @ WKU Commencement

  • Published xxx-xxxx
  • B.S., Physics, Cum Laude, May 2002
  • B.A., Mathematics, Cum Laude, May 2002

Name and address of current employer

I am currently employed by the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida, and funded with a grant from the NNSA/DOE.

National High Magnetic Field Laboratory
1800 East Paul Dirac Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32310-3706
Phone: 850.645.2704 Fax: 850.644.0534

Current Position

My title is Graduate Research Assistant. I am also the student member of the Physics department's Graduate Affairs Committee. Along with my thesis work regarding the study of the heavy Fermion superconductor CeCoIn5 at high pressure, I am also involved in studies of depleted Uranium at high pressure, thermal expansion and magnetostriction measurements of CeCoIn5, crystal growth, and the optimization of the tunnel diode oscillator circuit used to measure penetration depth of superconductors at both ambient and high pressures.

I have also been working with visiting undergraduate students as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program here at the Maglab. As the graduate research assistant, it is also my responsibility to to repair equipment such as vacuum pumps and probes as the need to do so arises. As a member of the Graduate Affairs committee, I meet with prospective graduate students during their campus visit, and attend faculty meetings to provide student insight on departmental policies and changes to those policies.

For the past three years I have also designed and conducted a new teaching assistant orientation for incoming graduate students. This is now changing to more of a supervisory role as I need to focus more and more time on my research. And although I passed on my role as the department's representative in the Program for Instructional Excellence (PIE), I still work with the new associate and will present a lecture entitled "Teaching in a Laboratory Environment" at this fall's campus-wide PIE teaching conference.

How WKU Physics and Astronomy helped me to be successful in this job

One of the things that I am more proud of that I have done since becoming a graduate student is my involvement in teaching enhancement both for the department and the university. I attribute all of my success in this regard to my experience at the WKU Physics department. The faculty with whom I interacted while completing my physics major at WKU have served as an example of what a physics instructor should be. If I had to sum it up in one word, as I did in my teaching philosophy, it would be accessibility. As a physics student at WKU, I was never left looking for someone to answer my questions and it was only on a rare occasion that I ever saw a closed office door when the instructor was there. I believe that this accessibility is key to effectively teaching physics, as physics seems to be a subject that most of the public deems unaccessible and all of those studying physics need their hands held through a problem set every once in a while. Also, at WKU I was given the opportunity to while supervised teach a laboratory section of the introductory physics courses. No other American graduate student in my incoming class had that experience and the level of comfort in front of students that this gave me led to my being named a PIE associate and given the responsibility to guide others in becoming effective teaching assistants.

My successes with regard to research can also be attributed to my experience at WKU. Because of the lack of graduate students in the physics department, all laboratory assistant responsibilities were given to undergraduates. I have found that this early research experience is lacking at other institutions. Also, I would have never ended up working at the Maglab if it weren't for Dr. Vourvopolous not only encouraging me to check out his alma mater for an REU, but also expand my experience beyond the nuclear physics and give condensed matter physics a try. The excellent instruction that I received at WKU fully prepared me for graduate level courses. Of all of the Americans in my incoming class of physics graduate students, I was the one of the only ones that did not have to take any undergraduate courses as a graduate student to prepare for the next level. While graduate courses were in no way easy, my experience as a Physics major at WKU definitely gave me a leg up and let me hit the ground running.

Tips and advice for someone wanting to pursue a career in my area

I would recommend that a student take full advantage of all of the opportunities available at the WKU Physics department, be it participating in research, supervised teaching of a laboratory section, or working in the Physics Help Center. I feel that all of these prepared me for my ultimate goal of becoming a university professor. I would also recommend that students take advantage of the REU program sponsored by the NSF to expand their research experience and make connections at other schools. It might also be worthwhile to try participate in a area of research outside of their current area of focus while participating in a REU program. They may find, as I did, that they really like their current field and then completely fall in love with another in the span of a summer.

I cannot emphasize enough the need for a freshman interested in majoring in physics at WKU to recognize and take full advantage of the opportunities available to him or her. Those interested in continuing to graduate school have the chance participate in relevant research from early in their college career, get some teaching or tutoring experience, and fully prepare themselves for graduate study by taking advantage of the availability and expertise of each of the faculty members. Those interested in teaching as a profession, be it as a professor or high school instructor, should do all of the items listed above and also pay attention to the professors teaching their courses. I personally learned a great amount and have grown as an instructor by letting WKU physics professors serve as my example of effective instructors, in both attitude and instructional design. If a physics major recognizes and takes full advantage of the available opportunities, he or she will be more than ready for the next level, whatever that may be.

Favorite memory from my time at WKU

I especially enjoyed the trips in Argonne and IU, SPS game night, getting up in front of a class for the first time, SPS picnics with the mandatory Ultimate Frisbee game (I do recall that Dr. Gelderman has skills in this regard), and generally just hanging out working on homework in the SPS room. Well, we were supposed to be working on homework.

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