Russ Van Cleave (The Tim Version)
SPB: What got you interested in pursuing science on a professional level?
Cleave: There are a lot of different reasons, but the easiest answer I could probably give would be high school physics. I quit marching band my senior year so I could free up room to take a physics class. I was told it would be good for college or something -- blah, blah. I didn't know much of anything about physics and I had no idea what to expect. But a few weeks into the class it all just clicked. It made total sense to me and I just thought it was awesome that you could use equations that described natural laws to predict what was going to happen for a given scenario. I watched a bunch of other folks struggling with the class and I realized that I might have stumbled onto something I not only enjoy doing, but something at which I might also actually be useful. My teacher was rad and very easy to talk to so I asked him what can you do with physics. He told me I could be an engineer.
So I started college as an engineering major and hated it. I struggled with every type of engineering I tried. Engineering, to me, seemed to gloss over a lot of the fundamental reasons for doing things. It was more of a shut-up-and-calculate type of culture and that turned me off to the whole thing. So I changed my major to physics and eventually got a M.S. Of course, most of what I do now professionally is essentially engineering work but the field I work in is still dominated by a lot of science that hasn't been fully defined and/or applied to some standard engineering process. So I get the opportunity, quite often, to go digging through research journals in an attempt to wrap my head around some concept needed for a physics model or an engineering task or just a basic nuts and bolts explanation for the managers. The nice thing about my job is that the pro-world hasn't ruined a love of science for me (yet). I'm still just as enthusiastic about it as I was, if not more so, than I was when I was younger and I spend a lot of my own time just reading up on one thing or another. The more you learn, the more you realize that you have a lot to learn. For me, it's been an easy way to keep from getting bored.