Alex Klotz, Assistant Professor

Klotz received his PhD in Physics from McGill in 2015. He is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. 

Q: My first question for you is what made you interested in doing a PhD? 

I was always interested in pursuing science and that included scientific research. I liked the idea of discovering new things about how the world works. So a PhD seemed like the pathway towards that. 

Q: What kind of support did you receive in your PhD Program? 

There was the financial support, mostly from the department and TAships as well. Over the years, I got a few internal scholarships. The last one was fairly substantial, but the ones I got before that weren’t really that significant. 

My supervisor was starting up his lab and he had a lot of startup funding so he could get the lab going. I was getting paid, but I wasn’t making a lot of money because, you know, I was a grad student. 

Q: What kind of career advising did you receive?

Not that much. Mostly from talking to other people like post-docs and professors. I was aware of industrial connections to what I was doing, but at McGill there wasn’t much of a connection to industry. 

Q: What communities did you feel like you belonged to during your PhD?

There was the community of graduate students in the department which was pretty strong. And then being in the broader graduate community at McGill. I knew some people outside of McGill, but not that many. Definitely the physics graduate community was the most significant.

Q: What do you value most about your time in graduate school? 

Once I was finished with classes and was doing my research. For several years, I felt like I had a lot of freedom just to go and do whatever I wanted as long as I got things done in the lab. And that’s something that doesn’t last forever, so I appreciated having that time. 

Q: What experiences did you have in graduate school that have been valuable to you post graduation? 

The main set of research skills that I built through grad school: being able to search and read literature, being able to set up and perform experiments, being able to analyze data using computer programing, writing and publishing academic papers. I’ve continued on the same trajectory and it’s all related to skills that I developed at McGill. 

Q: What do you do now and how did you get there?

I’m a physics professor. In my last year at McGill, there was an opening for a postdoc in the lab at MIT that did similar research to what I was doing. I applied to that job and ended up working there for four years. Then I did the whole faculty application thing, and I ended up getting the position where I am now. 

Q: What do you spend most of your day doing now? What is a typical day like?

I teach two classes. The biggest time contribution is making lecture material for those classes because I’m teaching for the first time. And then I also have my research lab that is getting set up. I get equipment to teach students how to do experiments. And I do other things like write grants and write papers.

Q: What connections are there between the work you’re doing now and the work you did as a graduate student? 

It’s the same research field. I use optical microscopes to look at DNA molecules in solution. It’s the same field, the same type of experiment, and same type of analysis. The exact details are different, but I’d say from an outside perspective, it’s pretty similar. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone still working on their PhD?

If your idea is to become a tenure track faculty have a realistic Plan B and develop the skills needed to make that Plan B happen. The other piece of advice is to enjoy yourself and not spend all your time in the lab. 

Many thanks to Alex for sharing his PhD narrative!

This interview took place in March 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.