Southeast Propels Physics Students to Top Tier Doctoral Programs

Three Southeast Missouri State University Department of Physics and Engineering Physics students have made the most of their college careers and will now take their “will to do” to the next level, continuing their studies in prestigious doctoral programs.

Varun Sadaphal, Colten Peterson, and Prajita Bhattarai will all graduate from Southeast May 13, and all have been accepted to top-tier graduate programs in their fields of choice.

Sadaphal, originally from New Delhi, India, will graduate from Southeast with a degree in engineering physics, mechanical applications option.  He will continue his education at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.  There, he will pursue a doctorate in biomedical engineering.

“I will be engaging in research and development of novel techniques which will directly impact present therapeutic procedures to treat multiple types of cancer via targeted drug delivery and enhanced imaging approaches,” he said.

Peterson, from Champaign, Illinois, will graduate with honors with a double major in physics and engineering physics, mechanical applications option, and a minor in applied mathematics.  He has been admitted to the University of Michigan and will pursue a doctorate in atmospheric and space sciences in the Department of Climate, Space Sciences, and Engineering.

“I will work as a research assistant starting this summer,” he said, “and will be funded by several internal fellowships and a NASA grant,” he said.  “My research will be based on satellite remote sensing of Earth’s atmosphere and understanding the planet’s energy balance.”

Bhattarai came to Southeast with a Bachelor of Science from Tribhuvan University in her home country of Nepal.  She is now completing a second Bachelor of Science from Southeast and will graduate with a degree in physics.  She will be attending Brandeis University, pursuing a doctorate in experimental particle physics.

“I am excited to have a teaching assistantship and to live near Boston,” she said.  “It will be a new and interesting experience for me, while learning more about my field of study.”

Getting into these graduate programs is no easy task.

“Colten’s and Varun’s achievements will position them well for the future.  It is unusual for graduate students to receive Research Assistantships when they enter graduate school,” said Dr. David Probst, chair of the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics.  “More commonly, students receive Teaching Assistantships when they begin, for which they must teach and grade labs about 20 hours per week.  They then work their way into a research group and may get a Research Assistantship after a year or two.  Starting with a research assistantship enables students to begin working in a research group immediately, which usually shortens their time to completing their Ph.D.,” he said.

“Prajita’s acceptance to the physics graduate program at such a prestigious institution as Brandeis University and her receipt of a Teaching Assistantship there also indicates a high level of achievement,” said Probst.  “All three of these graduates have been outstanding students here at Southeast, and we believe they will represent Southeast well in their future endeavors.”

Dr. Jonathan Kessler, Southeast assistant professor of physics and engineering physics, said Southeast provides its students with a strong foundation.

“The Department of Physics and Engineering Physics at Southeast is committed to providing students with a strong fundamental understanding of physics and the skill necessary to become successful engineers,” said Kessler.  “Approximately half of our graduates attend post graduate studies in engineering, physics or other related disciplines.”

The programs that Sadaphal, Peterson, and Bhattarai will join are extremely rigorous.

“Each of their future programs is ranked near the top in the country for their respective fields of study. This means that they are competing against top students from across the entire world for admission and for teaching/research assistantships,” Kessler said.  “Admission to these programs requires a combination of high academic standards, great standardized test scores, research/teaching experience and evidence of student involvement. Their program acceptance and assistantship awards are direct evidence of their commitment and talents as young scientist and engineers.”

Even after earning his doctorate, Peterson wants to continue his scientific research.

“I will pursue a post-doctoral research position at a NASA facility,” he said.  “In the long term, I plan to become a NASA civil servant and participate in future Earth observing satellite missions.”

Sadaphal has a different goal in mind.

“I want to become an entrepreneur and innovator in the biomedical field,” he said.

Bhattarai is still contemplating her options after graduate school.

“I will have a better idea a year or two into my graduate studies,” she said.

She is certain, however, that she is prepared for the road ahead.

“My professors at Southeast were so knowledgeable and helpful,” she said.  “I learned so much here that I will take with me to Brandeis.”

“These three graduates continue a tradition of strong graduate school placement within the Department of Engineering and Engineering Physics,” Kessler said.  “They are certainly off to a good start.”