College of Arts & Science at Miami University
A Conversation with Richard Wagner (Class of 2009)
- senior physics major (with Mathematics minor)
- from Canton, OH
- awarded an Astronaut Scholarship for 2008-09
In the fall of 2008, Richard answered questions about his time at Miami University.
What's it like being an Astronaut Scholar?
The astronauts from the Mercury 7 program set up this national scholarship for students in science and math. I was nominated as Miami's representative for 2008-2009 and had the honor of meeting Capt. James Lowell of the Apollo 13 mission (Tom Hanks played him in the movie). I will use the scholarship to pay off my student loans and buy a new computer.
How did you decide on a major?
My freshman year I took a course in introductory physics. One day after class my professor asked if I'd ever considered becoming a physics major. Initially I turned her down, but a couple weeks later we discussed quantum mechanics and it made perfect sense to me. The mathematics she used was elegant and supported her interpretations.
The classes are small and the professors are fantastic. They want to train undergraduates in research rather than only those in their graduate program. And I've learned a lot from them, not just from courses but outside class, too.
What do you like about the physics program?
The classes are small and the professors are fantastic. They want to train undergraduates in research rather than only those in their graduate program. And I've learned a lot from them, not just from courses but outside class, too. I spend a lot of time with faculty in my department and they've shown me new areas of physics that I might be interested in pursuing for the rest of my life.
What is distinctive about a Miami degree?
Miami has given me a distinct advantage. I already know things that I would usually learn in graduate school. As an undergraduate, I think that such early exposure to real world methodology is critical. I've worked with professors on experimental projects and theoretical projects, and I learned from actual experience how physics research is done at a professional level.
I've presented my research at three professional conferences and one paper is under review for publication in an international journal and another is in the pipeline. These opportunities give me standing in my chosen profession. I like having my name out there.
How do you balance it all?
Besides classes, my independent study projects and two jobs, I have a lot of meetings so I keep a rigorous daily schedule. But there's definitely downtime, too. Between classes I generally hang out in the undergraduate lounge in the physics building. At any one time there are usually five or six people working on homework or just messing around.
What's your favorite Miami tradition?
I'm not really superstitious, but I do feel bad stepping on the Miami seal in the hub. I feel it shows a certain amount of disrespect to the university to walk all over it. So although I don't think I'd fail a class, I don't step on the seal when I walk through the hub.