Cierra Presson

Major: Physics and Mathematics

What made you decide to study physics? I have always been interested in why things work, not just how. I started out pre-med, but I really enjoyed my Physics classes and I eventually realized I enjoyed my Physics classes more than my pre-med classes. Now, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Favorite part of being a physics major? The people. Being a women in a male-dominated field, it can be tough sometimes, but I am incredibly lucky that most Physics majors are really cool people. The discussions and experiences I’ve shared with other Physics majors have made the difficult parts of being a Physics major better and I have made great friends this way.

What has been your best (or most surprising) MU experience so far? Before COVID last year, SPS took a trip to Chicago to tour two of the national labs there: Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi Lab. When we first got there, a small group of us decided to go on a walk and explore. We watched the sun set over Lake Michigan and walked all the way to Navy Pier from our Airbnb. I think we ended up walking almost 9 miles, and by the time we got back, we were exhausted and sore, but it was definitely one of my favorite memories from the trip.

What are your career goals? I know I want to pursue a PhD program in Physics. I am not sure exactly what I want to do, but I definitely want to do research in some capacity.

What is/was your favorite physics course and why? My favorite physics course has been Quantum Mechanics. I guess what I like about QM is that, although often it presents surprising results about the world around us, its results are incredibly consistent with experimental results. Additionally, although it may not be intuitive, the way we do QM is methodical and the mathematics that is used to solve quantum mechanical problems is intuitive, once you have a grasp of linear algebra and the way we tend to apply these principles to solve problems.

How would you describe (overall impression) the environment in the physics department? While Physics may be a difficult major, the students are incredibly supportive. While sometimes, certain areas of academia can be really competitive and every-person-for-themselves, Physics majors are always willing to help each other to understand difficult concepts and motivate each other to keep trying, even when things get difficult.

What advice would you offer to current and/or future physics majors? Don’t freak out if you feel like you’ll never understand everything the way upperclassmen do. I made friends with upperclassmen as a freshman/sophomore, and I remember being blown away at their grasp of the concepts needed to understand areas of physics. However, as I’ve gotten older, I have progressed substantially, and I am so much further along than I anticipated I would be even a year ago. I still often worry that I’ll never know “enough” to be successful in Physics, but I know that as I continue to read, to listen, and to be patient, I will continue to be able to understand concepts that once felt completely beyond my ability to grasp.

What do you think is the social relevance of physics; why is it important that there are people with this expertise? I think one of the most important aspects of society is our curiosity and our desire to discover more about the world around us. Also, even things that may, at first seem incredibly abstract end up having applications in numerous other fields, such as technology, that can impact people’s everyday lives.

Favorite activities outside the lab/school? I enjoy going to SPS meetings, hanging out with my friends, reading.

Aside from subject matter, what have you learned from your university experience? How have your extra-curricular activities influenced your experience? I was a transfer student as a second-semester Freshman, and I was shy and didn’t know many people. Thankfully, I started going to SPS and met my boyfriend and several of my friends. I have become happier and more confident thanks to these wonderful people, many of whom I imagine will be life-long friends.

Cierra Presson