Chandra, Premi

Areas of Interest: 
Magnetism without conventional spin-ordering, reductionist models of glassiness, phenomenological approaches to ferroelectrics, and nonequilibrium quantum dynamics. Department of Physics and Astronomy
My Story: 
From early on, I’ve always had a sense of curiosity about nature and I always wanted to know more about what was around me. I had a great deal of interaction with my father who was a mathematician and we used to have discussions frequently about physics and math, which clearly played an important role in determining my career as a scientist. I had always liked math and the combination of math and my fascination with nature drove me toward the field of physics.

I actually originally went to college to study history, but I switched to physics between my sophomore and my junior year. I always liked math and science, but I also had a passion for history. I think particularly because I grew up in a very scientific environment, part of me, to be honest, was a bit rebellious and so I was pushed in the history direction. I still love history very much. I also thought about human rights law for a while. And I thought about medical school. I’ve always known what I was going to do, but it clearly changed a few times during college. Somehow, part of the reason I ended up doing physics, and I think I could even be equally happy doing other things, is the fact that I am very interested in nature and I like the notion of an objective truth.

In college, I had a professor, my senior thesis professor, who encouraged me tremendously. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve met many people along the way who have given my tremendous encouragement. There have been many very supportive influences in my life and each has helped push me to be a little more successful. 

When I was in college I felt that a huge benefit was summer internship programs. It was a very formative experience, making physics in the classroom much more real to me. One of things I’ve been trying to do here at Rutgers is to construct summer internships for undergraduate students. I was able to go out into the industry and have a sense of what was going on there before actually entering the industry and I think students should pursue similar opportunities. Interning certainly made me more suitable for working in industry and provided me with a strong network of professionals. I still keep in touch with some of the people I’ve interned with.

I took two years off between college and graduate school and I worked in an industrial lab as a research technician. I went to graduate school and from there I worked in industry for two years as a post-doctoral and twelve years as a principal investigator. For the past three years I have been a faculty member at Rutgers.

I’ve always had an interest in participating in university life and I grew up in an academic environment. Part of the reason I went to industry and not immediately into academia was that I was raising two children and I didn’t think that I could cope with research, teaching and the commitments of home life at the same time. This was something even advised to me by my mentors: it would probably be better to focus on research instead of trying to balance that on top of teaching with driving my kids to after-school activities. Now that my children are grown (or think they’re grown) I have more flexibility. I always knew that I wanted to teach. I’ve been teaching in one way or another since high school in tutoring programs. I really enjoy working with students and I think it’s fair to say that being a parent has made me a better teacher than I would have been otherwise. I can empathize more with my students’ viewpoints. 

Transcribed from interview with Christina Leshko.