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Justin Raybern

K-State graduation year: May 2014 
Degree: BS Physics
Other degree received: BS Secondary Education, Kansas State University 2007
Current employer: Duke University
Position: Teaching Assistant/Graduate Student

How many times, if any, did you change your major during college?


Describe the process of choosing your major.

I finish a degree in education in 2007 and became a high school teacher.  I chose that program because I enjoyed teaching and wanted to pursue that as a career.  Once I started teaching, I fell in love with physics and went back to school to get more training.

What activities/organizations were you involved in while in college?
  • Fraternity
  • College Council
  • Student Senator
  • College of Education - served on committees
  • Leadership Studies Ambassador
  • Taught chemistry labs
  • Coached Football
  • Research
Did you complete an internship or have related work experience prior to receiving your job?

I worked with Prof. Ivanov on a research project and it helped me get to where I am.

Describe the process of finding your first job.

Preparing for graduate school is a lengthy process.  You have to take GREs, write a statement of purpose, and apply to specific programs that might be a good fit.  If accepted, you will be invited to an open house weekend where you can visit the school to try to see if it is a good fit.  You should visit with Dr. Dandaneau frequently and early if you are planning on attending graduate school.

Briefly describe a typical day at your job.

My main responsibility in classwork this year.  I spend roughly 50 hours a week attending class, reading, and doing homework.  I spend another 15 hours a week teaching and 15 more on research.  I have to work on weekends to get everything done, but if I manage my time well I can still enjoy a little time away from work each day.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

This is the most intellectually challenging thing I have ever done.  Every day stretches my abilities.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

The amount of time it takes is substantial.  No one in my class puts in less than 50-60 hours a week on their work.  They demand a lot of you in graduate school but it is incredibly rewarding.

What advice would you give someone interested in your field?

Research, research, research.  If you are a physics major reading this and you aren't currently involved in doing research, you are not doing it correctly.  You learn the most in physics by doing research.  Plus, it is nearly impossible to get into decent graduate programs without some meaningful research experience.

What were the stepping stones that led to your current career?

My five year career as a high school teacher certainly lead me to where I am.  I realized that I wanted to do physics research for a living while teaching high school students.

Has your career path taken any unconventional turns that you never would have expected?

As I've mentioned, I left a career in education to do this.  I didn't initially plan on doing a Ph.D. but once I returned to school this quickly became the goal.

How have any changes in your life situation affected your career path?

Going back to K-State was a very good move for me.  Initially, I went to Wichita State for a year.  Going to K-State allowed me to get involved in doing research and that helped me land where I am.

What job have you enjoyed the most and why?

My current position has been wonderful and I am looking forward to the spring since this year I have been moved up to 1st assistant and will be conducting the non-varsity band at UIL in April on stage and in the sight reading room. I never thought I would move away from home, but I’m glad I did. I have learned so much: Title I teaching and that sometimes these kids need a parent figure more than a teacher, a lot about the Hispanic culture and the fact that Mariachi bands go to contest and is a serious business, UIL, sight reading, some Spanish, the list goes on forever.

What were the major lifestyle changes your first year out of college that made the transition hard from college to the world of work and how did you adapt?

There weren't many transitions that I was unaccustomed to.  I had worked an 8-5 job before and so getting up and going to work every morning was not something new to me.  For some people, it is, and they struggle with that.

What was the one thing you did in college that has had the most impact on your life or career?

Teaching.  I learned a lot from teaching and I have that 'tool' at my disposal when needed.  A good teacher is a valuable resource and I think it has helped me get opportunities that I otherwise wouldn't get.

Was there a specific class you remember that sparked your interest in your career direction?

I have a lot of great Professors at Wichita State and Kansas State.  It was a visit to the MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) experiment in Minnesota that sparked my interest in the career I'm in now.

Was there a specific person in college who had a significant impact on your life or career?

There are too many to list.  Get to know your professors and advisers.  They are wonderful people that do want to help you succeed.